The benefits of encouraging young people to seek STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers are many. Those who seek careers in these fields will not only have jobs in the future, they will create the future. However, if individuals who have aptitudes in these areas were unable to pursue such a career, would we not consider this a waste of a valuable resource?
An extremely large percentage of our populace consists of such individuals who do not pursue careers in STEM. These individuals are young women. This is not an issue limited to one region or nation, or to a socio-economic class; rather this problem exists on a worldwide level.
(Related: Where are the women coders?)
A 2012 study conducted by Change the Equation revealed that 65% of degrees awarded for STEM fields of study were given to males, while only 35% were given to females. This needs to change. We need to identify ways to attract young women and girls into STEM fields.
Arguably, young women have a great deal to offer to these worlds. For instance, they could provide a much-needed fresh perspective to existing concepts. Better still, young women may very well have new ideas that have yet to be explored. The opportunities for the furthering of knowledge are unimaginable. But these will never come to be unless we can attract more young women and girls into STEM fields of employment.
The question is how can we as a culture and an industry change this pattern?
Make the career more attractive
The key to attracting young women and girls to STEM-related fields is to change the negative image. Admittedly, when many of us think of this line of work, all too often images of individuals toiling over calculations or collections of data come to mind.
The first step would be to establish an understanding that STEM fields are where the jobs of tomorrow are. There is and will continue to be a demand for well-trained individuals in the world of technology. The media and academia need to highlight the cool factor of coding, technology and making money, so young adults’ egos will not be damaged.
Creativity is key to success
Another way to cultivate an interest in STEM is to showcase the value of creativity and originality that thrives in these fields. With applications that allow users to create colorful images and patterns, girls can enjoy innovation without limits. We need to show these young people what they can create just through imagination, and how the STEM field can provide an outlet for even the most artistic minds.
Working on teams, not alone
A factor that should not be ignored is illustrating STEM fields are dynamic, rather than staid and isolated. A large part of creating a dynamic image of STEM professions is the idea that people in these fields rarely work alone. More often, they work as part of a team, sharing ideas and communicating regularly with colleagues who are often in other parts of the world. Young women must understand that when they work as part of a team, their ideas are a valued contribution to the project as a whole.
Thrive on shared ideas
Toward this point, these students must be allowed to share their work and their ideas with their peers and instructors. This process will help them to develop an appreciation for working with others. This gratitude will serve as an impetus for seeking employment in STEM fields. The young women looking into STEM-related occupations will see it as an opportunity to share their ideas and knowledge, as well as an opportunity to work with others from different backgrounds who are just as willing to communicate with them.
Encourage your daughters, nieces and grandchildren
Finally, we must ensure that young women and girls are aware that there is a need for them in STEM fields of employment. They should be told that though males dominate these fields, their fresh perspectives and ideas are needed to breathe new life into the world of technology. For these young people, there must exist the belief that they are needed and that they can make a difference. Empowered with this, young women will be more willing to venture into the world of technology with the assurance that what they do will make a difference for the better.
Christopher Whittum is the author of “Energizing Education Through Open Source,” an educational guide on integrating open-source technology into education. He earned a master’s degree in learning and technology from Western Governors University. He has been working with computers for more than 30 years and teaching for eight years. He currently lives in the northeastern United States.