Representation matters everywhere, and nowhere is it more important than in the workforce. As the U.S. faces a shortage of STEM workers, female STEM workers are particularly underrepresented. But to get girls in STEM, they have to see themselves in the field.
Female students aren’t motivated to study STEM in college or pursue STEM careers if their classes or career fields are made up of a sea of white men. No representation means fewer girls in STEM–women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce, but hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.
Read more: What motivates girls to pursue STEM?
Women of color and different religions made up part of this year’s newly-elected U.S. Congress. Movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel bring “main character” female representation to super hero films, while movies like Black Panther feature strong women of color–one of whom happens to be both a princess and a brilliant scientific inventor.
It’s time for us to help girls see themselves in STEM careers. And if we want to get more girls in STEM, we have to show them the women who are working in STEM now. These new initiatives give girls a chance to explore their own potential role in STEM as they illustrate past and present female role models and pioneers.
Read more: Is STEM getting IT right for female students?
Career connections to encourage girls in STEM fields
1. IF/THEN is a new $25 million philanthropic initiative driven by the fact that girls cite a lack of female role models in STEM as a key reason why they don’t pursue a career in that sector. The idea focuses on this concept: If girls see women like them working in the STEM field, then girls can picture themselves in all kinds of STEM careers. The initiative aims to tackle the gender gap and increase funding for women working in STEM.
2. The Google-supported Girl Powered, launched by The Robotics Education & Competition Foundation and VEX Robotics, is committed to showing how exciting it is to be involved with STEM, showcasing examples of how women are changing the world, providing tools for success, and enabling comfortable environments where all students confidence and abilities can flourish. These real-life examples and hands-on opportunities can help motivate more girls in STEM education.
3. Microsoft and Nobel Media partnered on Women Who Changed Science, a unique web experience that highlights the inspiring journeys and contributions of female Nobel Prize winners. The site notes that 64 percent of U.S. girls and women cannot name another woman in the sciences, and the women highlighted are intended to inspire girls in STEM pursuits and empower the next generation of scientists.
4. CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, acquired nonprofit TechGirlz and will help the program forge a new path to get more girls interested in STEM by exposing them to engaging workshops and experiences. TechGirlz workshops have been successful because subjects are designed specifically for middle school girls, and as research shows, middle school is the age where girls either lose interest in STEM or decide to stick with it.