The Shortage of Women in STEM Fields: 5 Pieces of Advice From Experts Live
By Stephen M Zorio
Google recently announced it will invest $50 million in Made With Code, a program "aimed at getting young women excited about learning to code and close the gender gap in the tech industry."
Nor are they alone in their interest. In fact, one can find any number of groups -- from the Girl Scouts to NASA to the White House -- who have studied this very problem at length.
ScribbleLive recently hosted a chat on that very topic and talked to experts like Cecily Carver, Co-Director of Dames Making Games; Tendu Yogurtcu, VP Engineering at Syncsort; Jen Lamere, a 17-year-old who won the TVnext Hackathon; Laura Plant, Director at Ladies Learning Code; and Mélanie Attia, Director of Digital Marketing at Silanis Technology.
The panelists shared personal stories, they talked about the challenges they've faced, the problems that still need to be addressed and who their heroines are in the STEM fields. You can see the Women in STEM chat in its entirety, but we've boiled it down to the five best moments.
1. Early encouragement is essential
My perception of technology has definitely changed over time. As a girl, I was really turned off of tech (and actually avoided it as much as possible). I saw tech as boring, dry and not at all creative.It's amazing to me now, how wrong I was!! Why did my teachers and mentors not encourage me to explore tech more? Did they have these same misconceptions?My fear of tech came more from not understanding what technology actually is, in the sense that it can be a creative field, and help me change the world. No one presented tech to me in this light. -- Laura Plant
Lack of encouragement is a major issue and it starts within the family as well as early childhood education. I was very lucky to have a family with very storing female figures, and a mathematician dad who was very encouraging. I always had math (word) problems, puzzles and blocks to play with. My high school math teacher was a major influence. He noticed my passion towards math and created opportunities for me to teach certain topics to the class, prepare and post math questions for university entry exams, etc.
Schools have started addressing these. Hour of CODE is a great initiative that got everyone's interest and made the concept popular. Many schools have incorporated hour of code to their program already. Scratch by MIT is another one that introduces basic concepts of programming in a story telling fashion where kids can create animations and games.
Media needs to also pickup and include women characters in the STEM fields, e.g. in children’s TV series or games. -- Tendu Yogurtcu
Being a woman in technology has its challenges, but feeling alone shouldn’t be one of them.
There are so many factors at play here. Thankfully, I was lucky that my family environment was conducive and encouraged me to take interest in STEM from all aspects. The great equalizer is leveraging elementary school as the platform to teach science, technology, and math, the basis for engineering as a whole. -- Melanie Attia
2. Make the STEM fields relevant -- and stop stereotyping girls
Another essential tool which I feel is direly lacking in early education: courses on critical thinking and asking questions. That gives girls the tools to challenge the status quo, empowers them in front of bullies and enable them to challenge stereotypes.I think every aspect of business will be eventually tied to IT. It will be as essential as the electricity that powers our lives. Weaving that context early on in school and at home will help bridge the gap and remove the stigma. -- Melanie Attia
Coding isn’t just for computer whizzes, says Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab -- it’s for everyone. In a fun, demo-filled talk Resnick outlines the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just “read” new technologies -- but also create them. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)
My advice to a school age girl would be to find the fun parts, and just jump into building things. I would especially emphasize not worrying about "geek cred" -- that's one of the major things that make people feel like they don't belong, or that they shouldn't be there. -- Cecily Carver
Lack or tech-savvy teachers is definitely a HUGE gap and part of this challenge. How can you inspire when you aren't inspired yourself? This is why supplementary learning opportunities are so critical and popular these days. -- Laura Plant
So an interesting fact is that, according to a 2008 study, there isn't really a gender gap in schools in mathematical fields, and girls often perform better than males in math and science classes - so girls are defiantly quite capable of being involved in STEM fields. I think the reason that girls may be reluctant from a young age can be summed up in [the comic below]. -- Jen Lamere
by Jen Lamere
3. What we can do to close the gap ... right now
by Jen Lamere
Let's empower teachers to inspire children to discover the world with STEM. Build context and interest in how the world works. Encourage and teach how to ask good questions, how to challenge, and how to think critically. -- Melanie Attia
Teaching is a good way to engage young people and educate them on the benefits and realities of these jobs. No matter you select services industry or cloud or mobile or software development, if you can also engage in teaching, you will have a big impact. -- Tendu Yogurtcu
Women need the support of each other AND their partners. Sheryl Sandberg talks a lot about this in her book. She says "the most important career choice you'll make is who you marry", which I found very interesting. -- Laura Plant
I think that just knowing other women in the field and having a chance to share experiences makes a huge difference. I'm thinking back to my women's group in the CS program at University -- that was really transformative for me. -- Cecily Carver
Gender shouldn't be the success factor in getting hired. However, educating tech companies with male dominated management to break through the stereotypes and make the work environment welcoming is also important. And it's certainly not about making office walls pink or any of that nonsense either. -- Melanie Attia
4. The heroines of STEM
I look to some of the women in video games. There's a really rich history of women as game developers that tends to be forgotten. Mary Flanagan, who has done really interesting work in games, and Leigh Alexander, who does some of the best video game criticism I've ever read. -- Cecily Carver
For me, it would have to be the women I work with and who volunteer with us to mentor young girls. They volunteer so many hours to this cause. Mentorship will be such a critical step to encouraging girls technological confidence and inspiration! Pearl Chen, Tessa Thornton, Christina Truong, Kathryn Barrett ... I could go on ... and on. -- Laura Plant
Two women I look up to in tech are Amber Mac & Vanessa Fox. They're incredible women in their own right, Vanessa with her work on Webmaster Tools at Google and Amber continually raising the bar on knowing everything that's going on in tech. -- Jessica Joyce
Roberta Bondar On Coming Down To Earth
by stephen.zorio via YouTube
I would also say Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman to go to space. I got to meet her after she came back from her space expedition. Even the sky is no longer the limit. -- Melanie Attia
5. Positive signs of change
The most encouraging thing for me is seeing programs spring up that are aimed at adult women from non-technical backgrounds, giving them skills to build stuff right away. I think so many people are hungry to learn to program in an environment that's creative and explicitly welcoming to them. -- Cecily Carver I think so many people are hungry to learn to program in an environment that's creative and explicitly welcoming to them.I look to some of the women in video games.
Most encouraging trend is more transparency. Internet and social media help with accessibility, online learning (code.org). We need to do a better job in mentorship: Ladies Learning Code is a start. -- Tendu Yogurtcu
NFC: Thinking Creatively Beyond Mobile Payments w/ Pearl Chen from XDA:DevCon 2013
by stephen.zorio via YouTube
Definitely the industries recognition of the importance of gender diversity and how this is influencing the evolution of the industry environment. Also, seeing more young girls (8-13 specifically) interested in technology (building, not just consuming). I really hope we see more choosing tech as a career path! -- Laura Plant Also, seeing more young girls (8-13 specifically) interested in technology (building, not just consuming). This is a topic dear to my heart right now, as I am expecting a daughter in 2.
I've noticed that many of our developer interns are women, and that is the most encouraging sign of the changing tides.-- Melanie Attia
Be sure to follow Engage Magazine on Twitter to learn about our upcoming chats.