There’s been tremendous momentum in recent years behind science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and especially around bringing more girls into these traditionally male-dominated fields. The enthusiasm around STEM, and the need to bring underrepresented groups into the fold, reaches from classrooms across the country all the way to the White House. “One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science and engineering,” said President Obama in 2013. “We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … not being encouraged the way they need to.”
More recently, there’s been a push for STEAM education — that is, with an A added for arts. As Anna Feldman wrote last year in Slate, including arts doesn’t mean focusing less on science, technology, engineering and math. “It’s about sparking students’ imagination and helping students innovate through hands-on STEM projects. And perhaps most importantly, it’s about applying creative thinking and design skills to these STEM projects so that students can imagine a variety of ways to use STEM skills into adulthood.”
And there’s no better time than now. To start with, women are not benefiting as much as they should be from what, by all accounts, is a time of growth in STEAM fields. A U.S. News & World Report study last year found that despite increasing job opportunities, “multi-million dollar efforts by both the public and the private sectors have failed to close gender and racial gaps in STEM.” According to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that supports and connects young female engineers, the biggest dropoff for girls in computer science happens between ages 13 and 17. As American students have fallen behind other countries in STEM subjects and the country has lost its competitive edge, the National Math and Science Initiative has declared a “STEM crisis.” And really, it’s no wonder, when for far too long, by failing to fully open up these fields to everyone, we’ve also failed to fully tap into our collective talent and ingenuity.
But there are other compelling reasons for doubling down on our commitment to STEAM education. When more women are represented in these fields, our whole society reaps the benefits. It’s about helping girls and women reach their full potential, and in doing so, helping our country do the same.
What we can all do — and what so many women are already doing — is open up the conversation about all the pioneering women in STEAM, the incredible impact they’re having around the world, and the many opportunities that already exist.
Our collective relationship with technology is yet another reason that we need more women in STEAM fields. Our current definition of success — and the unhealthy dependence on technology and always-on mentality that fuel it — was largely created by men. And pioneering women in STEAM professions are uniquely positioned to lead the way to changing the way we work and live so that we can be healthier, smarter, less stressed and more fulfilled.
Including the arts in this conversation is especially important because at the moment we’re drowning in data but starved for vision and wisdom. And as leaders in STEAM, women have a special ability to bring about the changes our world so desperately needs by creating tools that help us tap into our own wisdom and live healthier, more fulfilling lives. The world needs women to not just climb the ladder of success — a misguided definition of success, after all — but to chart a new path to success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving. Women need to lead the way to change our culture of burnout — both for their sake and also for the sake of successful men who desperately need a new model of success. And the still-very-macho world of STEM is a great place to start.