STEM interest for women needs to start as early as possible

10.16.2013


Early STEM interest, redefining fields vital for industry improvement
Early STEM interest, redefining fields vital for industry improvement

While the current outlook for women in the STEM fields remains somewhat uncertain, there's plenty of hope for improvement from new approaches toward education and redefining the field itself.

Only 26 percent of STEM workers are women, according to HPC Wire. Recent findings by the Census Bureau, according to the news source, have found that female computer worker figures have been on the decline for the past two decades as well. From 1990 to 2010, women went from representing a full third of all computer workers in the field to 27 percent. With these numbers, the opportunity for improvement is significant, and important steps are already being undertaken. 

Education a key tool
Education needs to be a point of emphasis for the STEM fields growing in their representation of women, as leaders frequently mention the levels of student engagement. Early exposure has been cited as a critical point of emphasis, as has renewed and constant interest in the field itself. This also comes from a need for improved teaching performance, which has been found to have an important emphasis on student success. Also, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has found that the US needs to hire more than 100,000 teachers in the field over the next decade to meet modern demands.

"To meet our needs for a STEM-capable citizenry, a STEM-proficient workforce, and future STEM experts, the nation must focus on two complementary goals," the Council said in a report. "We must prepare all students, including girls and minorities who are underrepresented in these fields, to be proficient in STEM subjects. And we must inspire all students to learn STEM and, in the process, motivate many of them to pursue STEM careers." 

Early interest crucial
More important aspects of improving gender gaps in the field may come from new initiatives aimed toward teenage girls who may be interested in STEM, especially in light of figures from Forbes. While 74 percent of girls in the U.S. have interest in STEM fields in their teens, those numbers drop precipitously by the time they reach college, where less than one percent of them opt for a computer science major. What's more, computer science advanced degrees earned by women have declined by 11 percent in the past decade, currently standing at  21 percent.

However, recent trends and programs installed by companies and organizations fight against these trends. For instance, Qualcomm works in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative to further two programs to give women first-hand experience in STEM fields, linking them to internships, mentors and scholarships that not only give them increased exposure to the different positions but center them in a more women-driven context. Two other recent competitions aim to increase the interest of young women in the field, according to Chicago Now. The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, for example, will accept applicants and provide them with a more empowered view of STEM fields. Going against their usual grain, famed superhero company Marvel is sponsoring a contest for women to meet mentors at Disneyland and Dolby Laboratories, among others, in support of a new franchise film that stars Natalie Portman as an astrophysicist.

Stop by Aerotek's booth at the WOC STEM Conference October 17-19 in Dallas, Texas.