Get Girls into STEM, and Save the World

In my previous blog, I covered the STEM studentunconscionable gender wage gap in American industry, and explained how Nitro addresses that problem. Due to the response and support for that post, I wanted to elaborate and take a step further back, because there’s more to the problem than fair pay, especially in the STEM field. Study after study shows the myriad ways girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

Teachers, parents and peers, often unconsciously or subtly (sometimes not so subtly) persuade girls that STEM pursuits are unsuited to them, and that they’ll fail if they try. So they don’t. So what can we do to fix it?

Fixing business takes fixing the culture

It’s actually more of a culture problem than a business problem—but of course, the one feeds the other. In an economy where tech jobs lead, women whose STEM passions were flattened in grade school must settle for careers in fields that may offer less opportunity, and less pay.

Worse, the rest of us never get to enjoy the fruits of what those women might have created, had their potential been nurtured rather than stunted.

Refactoring a culture is an agonizingly slow process. But the work has begun. Organizations such as Girls Who Code spread the message that programming is for everybody. The National Girls Collaborative Project aims to ensure that all girls have access to resources for pursuing their STEM passions.

We’re also happy to see local organizations with the same eagerness we have to make sure young women have the opportunity to realize their pursuits in STEM fields.

Million Women Mentors (MWM) is working to line up one million STEM coaches to “increase the interest and confidence of girls and women to persist and succeed in STEM programs and careers,” according to MWM, and The State of Florida has pledged to contribute 5,000 mentors over the next four years as part of the program. To achieve these mentor-mentee relationships, Hillsborough County Public Schools has partnered with the Museum of Science and Industry to provide female students access to successful STEM role models.

A powerhouse in the Tampa tech scene, Tampa Bay Technology Forum is getting involved too. They recently held a Professional Women’s Network panel to discuss fostering a love of STEM in young women and how to “rebrand tech” in the hopes of reigniting their STEM interests.

Here at Nitro, besides doing right by our women wage-wise and actively seeking women candidates to evaluate for every position, we created our Women in STEM scholarship to help make college a little more affordable for female high school students who plan to major in a STEM-focused program and have proven financial need.

Saving the world starts at home

But since this is a culture problem first and a business problem second, what we do at home really matters more. That’s where I safeguard and nurture any sign of STEM interest in my nine-year-old daughter who, like my 16-year-old son, shows a strong aptitude for math and engineering. (DNA is amazing stuff.)

My daughter is not limited by this world - STEM

She is not limited by this world

My wife and I are making sure we encourage those gifts by giving her all the support she wants, and by carefully avoiding the gender-norm trap of subconsciously taking such aspirations more seriously in her brother than in her.

I think about the ways my parents helped feed my early passion for technology and math by making sure I had access to instructional books and magazines and computers as soon as I was ready for them. I do the same for my children. Both of them.

As every parent knows, encouragement is a tightrope walk over a wicked canyon. My wife and I must make sure we are supporting and encouraging our daughter’s interests while also taking care not to push so hard that we accidentally press the Preteen Rebellion Button and boomerang her in the opposite direction.

Right now she’s pretty STEM-focused, and I’m giving her all the help she wants, plus a tiny bit more I hope she won’t really notice. But if she wakes up next week with a sudden passion for haiku or macroeconomics, that’s what her mother and I will be encouraging next week. As a parental organization, we are all about customer service.

Our daughters are everybody’s future

STEM begins with reading

Lots of fun reading with my daughter

I always remember the quote attributed to Albert Einstein “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Reading triggers the imagination. It’s also the best gift you can give a child, teaching them where to find information allows them to feed their own curiosity. This starts at the earliest of ages.

Now she is 9 years old and while she loves to read, there are other STEM-focused activities she is engaged in. One that has helped is Tinker Crate, a subscription service that ships our daughter a box each month containing materials and instructions for a fun STEM-based project.

Tinker Crate is great for STEM projectsEach month we get a different project. One month it was building a biomechanical hand, the next was building a hand crank flashlight that works via the electricity generated. These projects come with all the materials needed for construction, along with blueprints and a magazine. She looks forward each month to the next delivery.

Drip irrigation STEM project

She’s been working on a drip irrigation project

Recently she received a drip irrigation system we built together.

Non-school educational activities like these feed her science curiosity, and spark new  conversations about the real-world and how things around us work. They also serve up great dad-daughter bonding time as a bonus for me.

The world can’t hope to address the Big Challenges of our time without utilizing everyone’s talents to the fullest. Somewhere out there, a young woman may already have the idea that will give us limitless clean power.

MythBusters has been great for STEM

She loved the MythBusters and was sad it ended

Do you enjoy the thought that perhaps her idea will never be developed because she can’t break into the technology field? Me neither.

And perhaps one day, the efforts my wife and I are making at home will converge with those we make at work, and our daughter will engineer her miracles right here at Nitro. That would be so cool. But don’t tell her I said that.

 

 

 

 

About the author:
PeteSladeWith more than 20 years experience in software development and strategic businesses practices, Pete Slade’s mission is to help enterprises streamline and optimize their business through technology innovation. With expertise in a range of technical operating systems, languages and databases, Slade works in concert with Nitro’s development team to offer clients superior products and services.

His experience as a technologist, talent developer and business strategist has resulted in Nitro Mobile Solutions being named “Technology Company of the Year” by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, one of the top 100 small businesses in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and earning position #248 on the Inc. 500 list for a three-year growth rate of 1,797 percent.