Why female participation in STEM will power our economy.
GUEST COLUMN | by Harsh Patel
The global focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — is an acknowledgment by industry watchers around the world that these fields fuel our innovation for a brighter future. A subset of that focus is promoting gender diversity in STEM, in other words, to get more girls in STEM education and more women in STEM jobs. There may be a knee-jerk reaction from some to simply say “Shouldn’t the most-qualified person get the job, regardless of diversity?” On one hand, that’s certainly true, but the issue with female participation in STEM is that their opportunities from the ground floor are limited. Thus, the most qualified person for the job may be a woman, but how will we know if she didn’t get a chance to learn STEM as a girl or didn’t get her foot in the door with a STEM job?
Middle-school girls perform better on beginner web development curriculum than boys. The goal, then, is to expose these ideas and fields to girls early on.
“Building awareness, interest, confidence and growth mindset are important pieces of the puzzle to increase girls’ interest in STEM,” says Marina Park, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northern California. “87% of girls who complete our multi-week engineering program believe that they can become an engineer when they grow up!”
Diversity in STEM matters, and it deals with a lot of bigger-picture issues beyond re-normalizing social norms and acceptance. In fact, the biggest issue here is an economic one. Here are four economic reasons why the world needs more women in STEM:
#1 Industry Innovation
For STEM industries, low female participation is like trying to cook a meal with one hand or riding a bike with one leg — feasible but highly inefficient. Statistics are highly skewed in STEM fields; computer programmers are only 20% female (source: NPR). Imagine the innovations created by bringing the best female minds to STEM fields. The world is missing out simply because the opportunity to enter these fields is minimized.
#2 International Business Competition
In 2010, Bill Gates was speaking to primarily male audience in Saudi Arabia and asked about the country’s potential to be a top tech nation. Gates’ answer? “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” Regions vary in STEM diversity, but the eventual leaders behind global business will come from countries that embrace this. The proof is in the numbers: gender-diverse companies (15%) and are more likely to outperform companies with limited diversity (source: McKinsey).
#3 Jobs Need To Be Filled
“The lack of women and people of color is not just a gender issue, nor is it just an ethnic issue. It’s an enormous economic issue,” says Robin Hauser Reynolds, Director and Producer of CODE Documentary. “By 2020 there will be one million jobs unfilled in the US.” Without anyone to fill those jobs in the United States, employers will look towards the overseas work force — foreign countries will receive the benefits of American ingenuity. The way to keep these jobs at home is to simply have a greater base of talent to pick from.
#4 Encouraging STEM Diversity
So how do we get more women to STEM jobs? The simple answer is to introduce them to the idea early on in life. The responsibility for that, however, comes from all sides: parents need to encourage girls, schools need to teach science and coding, and popular culture has to show positive role models. At MakerSquare, we’ve discussed this issue with a number of partners, and one fact that consistently sticks out is that middle-school girls perform better on beginner web development curriculum than boys. The goal, then, is to expose these ideas and fields to girls early on and it becomes a valid career choice for them.
The trickle-down effect created by female STEM participation is immense; everything from the local economics to gross national product to quality of life benefit from a long-term shift towards this. “Jobs in STEM fields command higher wages, greater job security, and excellent potential for growth,” says Tamara Hudgins, Executive Director of Girlstart. “In addition to the benefits of STEM innovations to the U.S. economy and to Americans’ quality of life, STEM careers offer pathways out of poverty. This is particularly meaningful for girls, as more than 63% of the nation’s households have a woman as sole or co-breadwinner.”
From jobs to global economics to industry innovation, only benefits come with a diverse STEM foundation. Our job, as the leaders of today, is to make sure that the opportunities are there for both young girls and women who want to explore new fields.
Harsh Patel is the co-founder and CEO of MakerSquare (recently acquired by Hackreactor), a 12-week coding bootcamp with locations in SF, LA and Austin.