Schools and celebrated nonprofits like Girls Who Code are making great strides in encouraging female students to embark on careers in STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and math -- related fields. But that pathway narrows considerably by the time young women reach college and then actually choose their careers.
“The lack of women in technology roles really starts in education,” said Crystal Valentine, vice president of technology strategy at MapR Technologies. “It starts at the time when students are starting to think about their careers, primarily at the college level when they start to declare majors.”
High school engineering classrooms look a lot different than they did a few decades ago, and it’s not just because of computers. Those classes now have girls. Lots of girls. Thanks to long-standing efforts by teachers, administrators and nonprofits, girls now make up about half the enrollment in high-school science and math classes.
Yvonne Brill invented satellite propulsion. Sarah Mather developed the underwater telescope. Ada Lovelace created the first computer algorithm. They were all women inventors, two words that many people don’t put together in a sentence very often. On March 8, International Women’s Day, it’s not only right to remember these and other female heroes, it’s just as important to encourage young women to know they can and should be among the next generation of inventors.
In a 2016 study, we looked at the LinkedIn profiles of millions of women skilled in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math to get a better understanding of their career paths and movement in the field. The results highlighted a challenge that many companies face: women in STEM roles are particularly hard to find and even tougher to keep.
A new independent public school in Richmond is testing a model for STEM education. CodeRVA High School is the result of a need to build a workforce in computer science and technology in the Richmond region. It’s an open, project-based, in-class and online learning environment that focuses on mastery of skills as opposed to grades.
“It’s unacceptable that we have so many American women who have these degrees but yet are not being employed in these fields, so I think that’s going to change, and it’s going to change very rapidly. Protecting women with STEM degrees and all Americans with STEM degrees - very important, but it also means you have to crackdown on offshoring, because the offshoring is a tremendous problem that displaces many of our American workers and brains, the brain power,” he said.
By 2020, STEM jobs in the United States are expected to increase by 10% (Lockard & Wolf, 2012); however, with some sectors reporting nearly 600,000 unfilled engineering jobs (BLS, 2015), declining numbers of engineering graduates cause alarm.
Corlis Murray - the senior vice president for quality assurance, regulatory and engineering services at global health care company Abbott - is one of today's leading women in the engineering industry, and her story isn't that different from the mathematicians portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film.
By increasing awareness of past gender and racial inequity, Hidden Figures has sparked interest in addressing the inequities that are still present today. Studies show that female and male students actually perform equally well in mathematics and science on standardized tests, but larger gaps exist between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds or family income.