When it comes to STEM, you may already know what it stands for: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. What you might not realize, however, is that STEM is much more than merely an acronym—it’s a state of mind, a philosophy of thought, and even a vocation.
Just ask Marie Curie. This Polish-French physicist and chemist could be considered one of the world’s first proponents of STEM. As the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize and the only woman to be awarded it twice, she has emerged as a forerunner and inspiration to today’s female STEM students.
Thankfully, Madame Curie did not let the cultural practices of her time regarding gender roles interfere with her critical research; in fact, her passion for science, understanding, and discovery permeated every fiber of her being, and she eventually passed away as a result of this unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Unfortunately, while they aren’t nearly as significant, those cultural gender conventions still persist to this day, and they can be seen in the difficulty that female STEM students and employees have when navigating the waters.
STEM careers are increasing faster than any other profession, and they make up nearly 90% of the highest paying jobs out of college. But while there’s a high demand for STEM jobs, there’s a shortage of supply, especially with women. Even though women are more likely than men to choose math as a major, they make up less than 25% of the STEM workforce.
A host of factors continue to hinder and obstruct the development and growth of females in this sector. For instance, there is still a palpable gender bias in STEM workplaces. One possible explanation of this is due to the outdated notion that women should be pushed into other positions, like the humanities and human resources.
Additionally, once they enter the workforce, negative peer pressure, active discouragement, and even outright harassment is all-too prevalent in their work environments, and can easily prevent them from thriving in adverse settings such as these.
Yet another barrier to women flourishing in STEM fields is the lack of role models in the professional community. This leaves them without the necessary leadership and guidance to grow their careers, which can lead to an abandonment of their profession.
Getting more women involved in STEM careers should include a multi-faceted approach, with a focus on shifting workplace dynamics away from a male-majority professional community to a more balanced and accepting workforce.
One way to accomplish this tremendous undertaking is to start educating girls early. This “planting of the seed” can be done with the encouragement of mentors through programs and other activities to get them involved in STEM principles and fundamentals.
Reaching out to younger girls and getting them to understand that the process of STEM incorporates a trial and error approach, rather than being based solely on automatic knowledge is crucial. This kind of encouragement and motivation can be integral to inspiring furniture STEM careers and positions.
And it seems like the roots may already be developing and growing. Countless organizations have taken note of this shortage, and as a result, a wide array of programs, camps, conferences, and internships across the country exist; all geared to allow young girls interested in STEM education to explore and investigate all that the sector has to offer.
Even businesses and associations have gotten in on this mission to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers. “Girls Who Code” is a non-profit organization that aims to support and increases the number of women in computer science.
“Koding with Klossy” is another organization association that motivates young ladies to learn computers, and features a burgeoning STEM leadership role in Karlie Kloss, a Victoria’s Secret model, and computer programmer.
And in just the last couple years, the toy company Lego has launched their “Women of NASA” line of toys, which praises the critical roles that women continue to play in the aerospace organization’s rich history. This 231-piece Lego set wasn’t just a favorite seller, but it became Amazon’s No.1 best-selling toy in just 24 hours of its launch.
To continue this paradigm shift, we need to persevere as a united STEM community. We need companies in this sector to commit to not only hiring more women, but nurturing their experience with guidance, direction, and passionate leadership which will allow them to thrive in their STEM careers.
Either way, there’s no denying that we are in the midst of yet another, but different, Industrial Revolution. This new age will transform how we both acquire and process our information, and it will continue to change at an extraordinary and unprecedented pace. If we are to thrive in this brave new world, we need our entire population’s participation and engagement, regardless of culture, creed, or gender.
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