Annie Easley, Grace Hopper, Mary Allen Wilkes…
If you’ve never heard of these women, you’ve surely heard of their accomplishments. Annie Easley “developed and implemented code” that led to the development of the battery used in the first hybrid cars.1 Grace Hopper, also known as “the mother of computing” helped to develop code called COBOL, which is still a standard of data processing today. And Mary Allen Wilkes helped to develop the world’s first “personal computer”, and is the first person to have a PC in her home.2
Women making contributions to technology is nothing new; however, women remain a minority in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) careers in the U.S. Although there has been a push for more gender diversity in technology fields, there’s a long way to go. To put it into perspective, recent data indicates that women make up less than 20 percent of U.S. tech jobs, even though they make up more than half of the U.S. workforce.sup>3
With the demand for employees with STEM degrees increasing and the push for more diversity in the workplace, there has never been a better time to encourage your students to pursue a career in technology. Teachers can help to set the stage and make a significant impact in encouraging young women to prepare for a career in technology. How? Start by following these ideas:
5 Ideas to Help Inspire Young Women to Pursue Careers in STEM
- Show Her How She Can Change the World. According to Forbes, appealing to a girl’s desire to make a change in the world can help her decide to pursue a career in technology. Suzanne Harper, the STEM strategy lead for Girl Scouts of the USA, stated, “research indicates that girls are more interested in pursuing STEM when they understand how they can use it to help others.”4 On the other hand, research by Microsoft found that only 37% of girls surveyed thought that STEM careers could actually make the world a better place.As a teacher, you can help close the gap in perception and show girls how STEM skills can translate to helping fellow humans, our planet, animals, quality of life, and the way in which we live, just to name a few. Share real life stories of how women have used STEM skills to make the world a better place. For example, “at MIT, they are creating teddy bears that help reduce the stress and anxiety sick children have to face. Students at UC Berkeley are involved in courses that are creating solutions for low-cost, safe drinking water and inventing equipment to help combat tropical diseases. More than half to three-quarters of these classes are filled with girls.”5 (Need more inspiration? There are a lot of great stories in this article.)
- Introduce Parents to STEM. Educate parents about what STEM skills are, why they are important, and what you plan on doing to include them in the classroom. Parents can help reinforce STEM skills at home. Hold a parent’s information evening, send weekly emails or leaflets to them to showcase your learning materials, or explain the rationale behind the topics and skills being taught in your classroom.
- Find Mentors to Help Inspire Your Students. According to a survey, “girls become interested in tech careers at age 11, but lose interest soon after.”6 Experts believe that one of the reasons for this may be that girls don’t have mentors to look up to.7 Reach out to parents and community members to help consult on a project in the classroom, form a STEM related club after school, invite professionals into the classroom to present, or even hold a career day where students can ask questions and meet face to face with adults that have jobs that require STEM skills.
- Bring on the Challenge. Preparing girls for a career in technology includes exposing them to challenging material. Promote the opportunity for enriched learning by guiding students to tackle stimulating material and use problem solving skills. One thing that you can do is to initiate a “passion project” for all students. A passion project is something that can go on over the course of the year where students choose something that he or she wants to work on, such as a new business or invention.
- Connect Students to Real World Careers. Have a student who loves math? Show her examples of different careers or fields where math is an essential component to the job. Here is a list of many STEM related careers that will need talent now and in the near future. By connecting the dots between science, technology, engineering, and math to actual jobs, you can help show your students that what they are doing in the classroom matters and can translate to a real job later in life. It answers the question: “When will I ever use this in real life?”
Overall, to inspire girls and other students to pursue careers in technology, remember to have fun! Playing, experimenting, failing, and figuring out solutions to challenges will help prepare students for a bright future!
1. Kraus, R., & Kraus, R. (2018, March 08). 15 unsung women in tech you should know about. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://mashable.com/2018/03/08/unsung-women-in-tech/#QaHszVXnAkqI↩
3. Bose, S. (2018, December 26). Only 20% of Tech Jobs are Held by Women, How About at Your Business? (INFOGRAPHIC). Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://smallbiztrends.com/2018/03/women-in-technology-statistics.html↩
4. Milgrom-Elcott, T. (2018, September 17). Girls, If You Want To Change The World*, Try STEM. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/taliamilgromelcott/2018/09/11/girls-if-you-want-to-change-the-world-try-stem/#51ca4e056399↩
5. Barricklow, K. (2017, November 08). How To Get Girls Involved in Tech – It’s Not Rocket Science. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.techgirlz.org/how-to-get-girls-involved-in-tech-its-not-rocket-science/↩