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Obama and Girl Scouts Drive STEM Career Advances

Girls and boys can pursue the same career, right? That’s what parents tell their kids, but a survey performed in December 2016 in the United Kingdom and Ireland indicates that 57 percent of teachers and 52 percent of parents still subconsciously stereotype students in science, technology, engineering, and math subjects (STEM). This survey included responses from 2,793 boys, 2,667 girls, 909 young men, 875 young women, 1,000 parents, and 400 teachers. 54 percent of teachers also admitted that they saw girls dropping these subjects due to pressure from their parents.

The study found evidence of gender stereotyping and bias towards STEM subjects. Due to this perception, teachers feel like this perception is primarily why girls do not gravitate toward STEM subjects in school. Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for Accenture Technology in the UK and Ireland Paul Daugherty believes that schools need to inspire girls to pursue these careers in return for a diversified workforce and a more narrow skill gap in science and technology.

“Educators, parents and business and technology leaders must find creative ways to spark and sustain a passion for STEM for girls from youth to young adulthood,” Daugherty said.

Although the UK may face this problem, the US has taken steps to increase the number of women in STEM careers. Former President Obama called for improvements among American students in math and science through the “Educate to Innovate” initiative in 2009. This campaign created a new nonprofit named Change the Equation, which trained 100,000 STEM teachers, raised federal investment in STEM careers, and encouraged increased participation in math and science.  

“President Obama knows that we simply cannot, as a Nation, expect to maintain our run of ingenuity and innovation—we cannot maintain that stream of new and different ideas—if we do not broaden participation in STEM to all Americans, including women and girls and minorities,” the Educate to Innovate website states.

During this campaign, Obama specifically targeted girls and young women in STEM fields through NASA/Girl Scouts of USA partnership and the Department of Energy’s Women in STEM Mentoring Program. After a meeting with the United Nations in September 2011, Obama signed a Declaration on Women’s Participation, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started the Equal Futures Partnership with 12 other founding members. Part of the Partnership’s goal is to open doors to quality education and high-paying career opportunities through partnerships with private and nonprofit stakeholders to upend underrepresentation in STEM fields. The partnership also seeks to expand entrepreneur training programs for women.  

Due to Obama’s promotion of equality in STEM careers, several academic institutions and nonprofits, such Discovery Communications, have launched programs to help women and girls advance in STEM careers.

For example, in 2016 Discovery Communications held “Discovery STEM Day,” an interactive, virtual field trip streamed from the organization’s headquarters for students interested in STEM careers. Students met five different men and women who used different STEM skills each day, such as digital media creation and web design.

In addition to Obama’s efforts, Girl Scouts seeks to empower young women in STEM fields through various programs, such as “Imagine STEM.” Through this program, girls can learn about and meet well-known scientists, perform engaging experiments, and explore STEM careers.

The organization also developed badges that encourage interest in STEM activities. Girl Scouts additionally offers partnerships, sponsorships, projects, and initiatives for girls to apply their knowledge. For instance, the FIRST Robotics Teams allows girls to explore robotics and information technology.

Even though gender stereotypes and inequality in the STEM field still exists, the United States has made great strides in driving young women to pursue these careers. Hopefully, this success will continue and the rest of the world will follow the examples that several organizations in the United States have set.

Featured Image by dcblog on Flickr

Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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