“Tech can be used in higher ways,” says Donnovan Andrews, CEO of Overture, who recently launched the inaugural “STEM + HD” event, with HD standing for humanitarian development.
And women in STEM are part of the solution, as the focus of the full-day conference was on solutions to advance women's roles in STEM to address today's pressing global issues.
“This is the beginning of integrating tech to change the human condition,” Andrews says.
One of the solutions on the mission to use tech for global social justice issues is to increase the number of women in the pipeline—from a very young age, starting with kindergarten.
“There are a half-million IT jobs open and the U.S. only graduates 50,000 students per year in computer science,” says Jen Crozier, president of Jen Crozier President, IBM Foundation and Vice President, IBM Corporate Citizenship.
“This is an opportunity for women and girls. We need to start early in terms of identity and building skills,” says Crozier, who was awarded The Overture Catalyst Award at the event that included speakers Malika Saada Saar, senior counsel on Civil & Human Rights at Google; Roya Mahboob, CEO of Afghan Citadel Software Company; Rochelle King, Global VP of product design and insights at Spotify; Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S'Well; Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Antonia Hylton, correspondent and producer for VICE; Seema Kumar, VP, Innovation, Global Health, and Policy Communication at Johnson & Johnson; and Valerie Jarrett, Civic Leader and Former Senior Advisor to President Obama, who received theOverture Digital Humanitarian Award.
“We know how important it is to have a full pipeline with people with the right skills for the future,” Crozier says. “It’s clearly a very complex problem.”
“The most influential factors behind fewer women in STEM programs are the stereotypes that have been applied to women for centuries. Some of these stereotypes include ‘women aren’t good at math, women cannot raise a family and have a successful career,’ and the most damaging, ‘girls create drama,’” write Hannah Christensen and Christina Christensen in Ashland Daily Tidings.
“Because these notions exist and are so prevalent in our society, it is hard to find solutions. The key to diminishing, if not eradicating these stereotypes, is education,” they write.
To help address that, IBM partnered with the American Federation of Teachers, national education leaders and teachers with support from the Stavros Niarchos, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations to launch Teacher Advisor With Watson for students in grades K through five. Since its launch earlier this year, 6,000 teachers have signed on for the free curriculum.
“Elementary school teachers have expressed a critical need for easy-to-use, well-designed math resources and ongoing support, as they are faced with the pressures of limited time, higher academic standards, diverse student needs, and the responsibility to teach many subjects and multiple grade levels,” according to the IBM release.
The program uses artificial intelligence technology to help elementary school teachers formulate high quality lesson plans and sharpen their instructional skills. The tool provides teachers with top teaching videos, lesson plans and teaching strategies.
“We want to develop a generation of coders,” Crozier says. “Girls succeed when they have mentors. So as they get to high school, It is highly important to have a dialog between industry and education on workforce issues.”
To that end, IBM created P-Tech, short for Pathways To technology, for students in grades 9 through 14.
“Within six-years, students graduate with their high school diplomas and no-cost associate degrees in a STEM discipline, along with the skills and knowledge they need to continue their studies or step into well paying, high potential jobs,” according to the IBM release.
P-TECH is active in 70 schools across six U.S. states, Australia, and Morocco, serving tens of thousands of students. More than 400 large and small companies partner with these schools.
“We are committed to it globally, to think across country boundaries,” Crozier says.
“The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that only around 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women . Similarly, according to the Economics and Statistics Administration of the US Department of Commerce only 24 per cent of STEM jobs are held by women , with individual disciplines like Engineering having a significantly worse gender bias,” according to the site, Stem Women.
“There’s also extensive literature on biases against women in STEM affecting all aspects of academia, including hiring, publishing, citation counts and teaching. Given these disheartening statistics, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before we can even start thinking about gender equality in STEM,” according to STEM Women.
Starting early with girls aiming for careers in STEM aligns with the 9 Leadership Power Tools created and developed by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. "Define Your Own Terms—First, Before Anyone Else Does," is Power Tool # 2.
"Whoever sets the terms of the debate usually wins. By redefining power not as 'Power Over,' but as 'Power-To,' we shift from a culture of oppression to a culture of positive intention to make things better for everyone.'“Power To' is leadership," according to Feldt.
Assuring girls and young women they have the power to decide their own career paths, outside gender bias and stereotypes, is essential.
A 2010 research report by The American Association of University Women, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, maintains that several key principles block women along the pipeline in STEM careers. These include “stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities.”
Encouraging girls and young women to enter STEM fields is a proven boost to women throughout their careers. The AAUW suggests that we can change the numbers of women in STEM with these actions:
- Spread the word about girls’ and women’s achievements in math and science.
- Teach girls that intellectual skills, including spatial skills, are acquired.
- Teach students about stereotype threat and promote a growth-mindset environment.
- Talented and gifted programs should send the message that they value growth and learning.
- Encourage children to develop their spatial skills.
- Help girls recognize their career-relevant skills.
- Encourage high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes when available.
- Make performance standards and expectations clear.
Crozier would agree. Not only starting early with girls in kindergarten through high school and college, but supporting women early in their careers and beyond is critical to create gender parity in STEM.
Crozier says, “It is important for IT companies to do everything they can to support women.”
This post originally ran in Take The Lead.