Engaging Women in STEM: We Have the Resources, Let's Use Them!

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The deficit of women in STEM is a pervasive international issue that has yet to be remedied. In a time when it’s impossible not to interact with technology on a daily basis, it’s critical that women are equally represented with these realms. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing discusses the implicit socialization processes that drive women away from CS, but also STEM fields at large (having a computer in your son’s room versus your daughter’s room, taking your son to fix the car with you). These small actions create superficial gender associations that build and become a heavily weighted reality over time. The accumulation of these unconscious decisions and stereotypes often draw women and girls who are moderately interested in STEM away from these fields.  

Too often, for women and girls STEM becomes an either-or: either I’m a technology person or I’m not. Women or girl develop the perception that because they don’t dream about coding or want to eat, sleep, and breathe cracking algorithms – they shouldn’t pursue STEM fields. Somehow technology never enters into a realm of moderation; it’s a binary of hacking 24/7 or waiting in line for the Geek Squad. Science and technology fields are like any career – there are people who are consumed, but there are also plenty of people who live a balanced life.

How do can STEM fields become more appealing to women and girls? There are a lot of ways to pursue this, one of the most cited examples being that girls enjoy contextualizing information in real-world examples. With the pervasive nature of STEM in our society, a feeling of empowerment is critical to the way women use, adapt, and contribute to these fields. It’s not about seeing STEM, particularly technology, as old or new, good or bad, but comprehensively seeing technology for what it is– the resources creating the product, the labor assembling the product, the ingenuity and creativity in software development, and the behavioral trends in the actual usage of these products and resources, rather than a cold, static piece of materialism.

STEM fields become a tool to improve, analyze and assess behavioral patterns, not a new, revolutionary entity. Technology doesn’t revolutionize the way people behave. Fundamentally, people want the same things they’ve wanted for hundreds of years – to communicate, connect, and understand – and technology enables these things to happen at an increasingly accelerated rate. If we start to think about technology through this lens, many more people, both men and women, will be drawn to these fields.

The National Girls Collaborative Project has been working in the informal education space for over ten years to increase the number of women and girls in STEM. Two central components to the NGCP model are state Collaboratives and the NGCP Program Directory. Collaboratives are state-based organizational networks of that focus on collaboration as a mechanism to enhance STEM education for women and girls. There are endless state-based initiatives touching on the advancement of women and girls in STEM; NGCP’s Collaborative model strives to create a nuance approach among these existing programs by reducing duplicative resources. Rather than creating new organizations and programs, NGCP encourages existing programs to work together to provide quality programming. Through forums, events, and funding opportunities (mini-grants), programs and initiatives realize that collaboration often yields the results they’re striving to accomplish. Check out over 600 organizations that have collaborated to expand their program capacity and advance girls in STEM!