Less Talk, More Action Needed to Bring Women into STEAM Fields—Here’s How

Early education is key to success for next-gen young women scientists, engineers.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Ana Tavares Lattibeaudiere

In today’s world, whether a child becomes a teacher, doctor or astronaut, one thing is for sure – technology will be a major and influential part of their lives. Technology touches everything we do. And the skillsets that come from an early education in technology are fundamental for living in today’s world, and will be even more vital in the future.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the technology industry is three times higher than average compared to other industries – demonstrating the progression and range of opportunities in this field. However, less than one in five of these technology jobs are currently held by women. When faced with this alarming disparity, how we can we begin to close the gender gap and bring more women into STEAM fields?

The remedy is clear: early, hands-on education. It is the key to unlocking the next generation of doers and go-getters in the technology industry, and I’ve seen this transformation first hand at many STEAM workshops for girls across the country.

Interest, Involvement, Awareness

In my role at the GSMA, the global trade organization that represents the interests of mobile operators around the world, there’s always been an emphasis on getting more young women involved in the technology industry overall. That’s why we launched our Tech4Girls initiative back in March 2018, which focuses on increasing interest, involvement, and awareness of the industry and fostering mentorship opportunities for girls all over the world.

This past March in New York City, we collaborated with KANO Computing, BT, The Trust Fund for the Americas-OAS and Engineering for Change to bring together 20 girls from five different schools across the city in order build their own computers from scratch, learn coding skills and network with professional women working in the tech industry.

While the participating girls already had interests in math and science, they had little exposure to coding and building hardware up until this point. By mid-way through the afternoon, I saw their curiosity unleashed as they unboxed the hardware for the computers, and step-by-step learned how to build a computer that they would then take home to be their very own. The energy and excitement of the girls in the room was contagious – and we’re looking to bring these same results to our Tech4Girls event occurring in Trinidad today, as well.

A Greater Need

While programs like these occur around the country, there’s a greater need to provide girls with continual access and opportunities to STEAM learning programs. Studies show young girls, especially those in black and latinx communities, lack role models in STEAM fields during their formative years. That’s why more of these types of events and hands-on educational programs need to come to fruition, and luckily, companies and institutions are beginning to realize the value.

For instance, other major mobile technology players are also investing in early STEAM education. Verizon’s Innovative Learning Program helps schools across the country have access to free technology, free internet access, and more hands-on learning experiences, while Sprint’s 1 Million Project has the goal to help 1 million high school students gain more opportunities by providing free mobile devices and free high-speed Internet access.

The Chance to Discover

Every young woman around the world deserves the chance to discover more about themselves and their career interests through access to technology and hands-on experiences – and that’s the spirit behind the annual celebration of International Girls in ICT Day.                                                                                               

Over 357,000 girls and young women have already taken part in more than 11,100 celebrations of International Girls in ICT Day in 171 countries worldwide2, and it is only set to keep growing.

This year, the GSMA did their part by hosting events, under the Tech4Girls program, throughout their global offices in Atlanta, London, Hong Kong and Beijing, among others. From building an AI tool with Google to developing new mobile ringtones with advanced coding software, these kinds of collaborative experiences are invaluable, and can be mirrored in educational institutions around the world.

From mentorship to workshops, we need to redefine what it means to provide career exposure to students while they’re in elementary school and middle school. It’s one thing to read about the benefits of technology, and another to build it with your own hands. In a world where the job market is only growing more competitive, the time to give young women the edge they need in order to pursue a successful future is now.

Give an aspiring teacher, doctor or astronaut the chance to create and build with technology and she could be the next great pioneer. With opportunity and access, we can change the face of education—and foster the next generation of technologists– for the better.

NOTES

1 Recent studies confirm that job growth in the tech sector is three times higher than the U.S national average. However, less than one in five tech jobs are currently held by women. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/cracking-the-gender-code

2 Over 357,000 girls and young women have already taken part in more than 11,100 celebrations of International Girls in ICT Day in 171 countries worldwide: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Digital-Inclusion/Women-and-Girls/Girls-in-ICT-Portal/Pages/Portal.aspx

Ana Tavares Lattibeaudiere represents and leads all GSMA activities in the North American region, and has played a pivotal role in the GSMA’s exponential growth over the last 13 years. Beyond executing the largest mobile technology trade show in the world, Mobile World Congress, Ana is the driving force behind GSMA’s global Tech4Girls Program, which holds quarterly hands-on workshops across the country for elementary and high school girls to inspire careers in STEAM studies.

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