How to Fix the Problem of so Few Women in STEM (Part II)

Here in part two of our series, “Why Do Women Hold Just 24% of STEM Jobs in the USA?” we take a look at how to encourage young women and girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.



The need for change is great.


At a time when an increasing number of baby boomer workers are retiring, employers are facing a major shortage of talented, high-tech STEM workers, it makes no sense for half of the potential candidates, e.g., women, to feel excluded or unwelcome from these interesting, well-paid careers.


What can be done to influence young woman and girls to achieve success in STEM careers?


Here are five practical suggestions to act on — in your community, your school, and in the work environment:



1. Celebrate Role Models That Inspire Young Women to Achieve Success in STEM Careers


What inspires us to pursue an interesting and successful career, one that we feel passionate about?


Career choices come about as a result of many factors.


Sometimes, a chance coincidence will play a major role, while in other cases, the influence of a favorite teacher will inspire an academic career, or jobs traditionally held by family members will help determine a future career path.


But let’s not overlook the powerful influence of role models. Exposure to the stories of leading scientists, mathematicians, company presidents, and other prominent individuals can have a remarkable influence on young minds, inspiring them to pursue a career that they may not have considered before.


Too often, it seems that young women and girls learn about the exciting careers of men and less about women who have equally prominent positions.


Why not take the time to learn about the inspiring careers of some of the leading women in science and industry so that you can share these role models with young people? Here are some useful examples to add to your storytelling repertoire:


  • Joy Adamson, Naturalist and Conservationist

International best-selling author Joy Adamson wrote the book “Born Free” about her experiences living in Kenya in the 1950s, where she rescued an orphaned lion cub named Elsa. The book and the 1966 film adaptation are inspirational works that can help young people learn about natural science, species preservation, and the importance of wildlife and the environment.


  • Hedy Lamarr, Wireless Telecommunications Inventor and Hollywood Movie Star

Lauded for her beauty and captivating presence on the silver screen, Austrian immigrant Hedy Lamarr took Hollywood by storm in the 1930s. Yet the movie business and its superficial social scene bored Lamarr, who occupied her mind by reading technical journals, inventing new products, and consulting to Howard Hughes’ aviation business. During World War II, Lamarr invented a frequency hopping radio transmission scheme that evaded eavesdropping and jamming. The technique is still used in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication to this day. The 2017 film Bombshell tells the Lamarr story.


  • Jennifer Doudna: Developer of CRISPR/Cas9

Jennifer Doudna, a molecular biology and chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has led the efforts to unlock the secrets of how to edit our DNA sequences, which is considered one of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology. The CRISPR/Cas9 gene edition technique holds the promise of preventing or curing diseases at the cellular level, ranging from cystic fibrosis and HIV to Huntington’s disease.



  • Limor “Ladyada” Fried: Hacker & Engineer, Founder of AdaFruit

MIT engineering graduate Limor Fried founded the phenomenon known as AdaFruit in 2005. This woman-owned company looms large in the hacker and maker movement. Dubbed “LadyAda,” Fried hosts frequent video podcasts on the AdaFruit YouTube channel that teach young people how to create their own electronic projects and inventions. Fried’s unconventional, yet relatable style has inspired young women and girls to experiment with STEM-oriented projects by providing high-quality products, inspirational tutorials, and an unassailable joie de vivre.



2. Promote Participation in STEM Career Development Activities for Young Women and Girls


You can also help young women and girls become more aware of STEM career opportunities by creating or taking part in events designed to connect young people with technical careers.


Here are several annual events to provide inspiration:


As part of National Engineers Week, the new Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day program helps connect young women and girls with women working in the field of engineering. We also recommend reviewing Business Insider’s list of the 43 most powerful female engineers of 2017.



According to the United Nations, male students are 2 to 3 times more likely to earn a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctor’s degree in science-related fields. To increase awareness of this level of gender inequality, the United Nations declared the 11th of February as the annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To learn more about the importance of women in science roles, we also suggest checking this list of 91 famous women scientists.


Originally founded in 1992 as Take Our Daughters to Work Day by the leaders of the Ms. Foundation for Women, this annual event expanded in 2003 to include boys as well. The idea is for boys and girls to learn about opportunities and explore careers at an age when they are more flexible in terms of their gender roles.


This is also an ideal day to teach young women and girls about successful women in industry leadership roles. Check out our article “Celebrating Leading Women in Industry” for information about leading female CEOs in the high-tech and manufacturing industries, including:


  • Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics
  • Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors
  • Renee James, former CEO of Intel
  • Ginny Rometty, CEO of IBM


As the manufacturing world accelerates into what some experts are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s also facing a looming talent crisis.  With more and more Baby Boomers retiring each month, there simply aren’t enough qualified candidates with the necessary STEM skills available to meet the demand. Today’s manufacturing careers require high levels of technical expertise in order to design, develop, manage today’s digitally-based production techniques, such as 3D printing and sensor-driven Internet of Things-based tools. 


 That’s why it’s more important than ever to recruit young women as well as men to this growing and rewarding sector.


As manufacturers of high-quality industrial furniture, we here at Formaspace are very interested in promoting Manufacturing Day, which helps provide outreach to both young people thinking about their future career choices, as well as adult job seekers wanting to learn more about the opportunities and benefits that come from working in the field of manufacturing.



3. Support Facilities Such as Science Museums, Summer Camps, and Makerspaces That Encourage Women in STEM


We also encourage you to support your local science and technology museums, summer tech camps for girls, as well as makerspaces at your local school, library or private facility.


As a leading consultant and furniture manufacturer for these type of hands-on learning facilities, we can tell you, firsthand, that they provide invaluable opportunities to help young people, especially young women and girls, to learn about the world around them and to be exposed to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that they might never have ever considered on their own.


Formaspace created the furniture for the popular Arizona Science Center, which provides a place for young people to learn about science and creating hands-on projects in the Makerspace unit. Facilities like these provide opportunities that encourage young women and girls to pursue STEM careers.


If you have a makerspace in your local school, library, or community, we encourage you to support it. If you don’t, but you want to learn more about how to go about creating one, read our report on how to create your own makerspace at your local educational institution or library system.


Many of today’s STEM careers require an increasing amount of familiarity and proficiency in writing computer programs. These skills, known collectively as coding skills, are an increasingly critical pathway for young women and girls to achieve success in technical fields.


Groups such as Girls Who Code seek mentors and role models who can help young women and girls learn about coding in a safe, productive environment.


To find more programs for young women and girls, check out the STEMConnector, which has news about STEM initiatives and resources all around the country.



4. Make Promoting Women in STEM Careers Part of Your Corporate Culture


Isis Wegner
Female software engineer, Isis Wegner, slammed for being ‘too pretty’ and ‘not real’ fights back with online campaign proving nerds can be attractive too

If we are to be successful in encouraging young women and girls to pursue a career in one of the STEM fields, we also have to provide a welcoming work environment.


So whether you work in an educational institution, research facility, or manufacturing operation, it’s critical that you attract, retain, and promote women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


Depending upon your current corporate or institutional culture, this may be an easy step (pardon the pun) or a heavy lift.


The leadership team will need to make it clear to everyone that this is an important goal, which has 100% of their support — and needs to have the same level of support throughout the organization.



5. Implement Corporate Mentoring and Apprenticeship Programs to Encourage Women to Pursue STEM Careers


Mentorship programs are an indispensable tool in your company or institution’s succession planning and career development efforts.


Now is also the time to look at your mentoring and apprenticeship programs for young women and girls.


If you don’t have a mentorship program in place, consider working with the aforementioned STEMConnector organization. They have created an ambitious program titled The Million Women Mentors® (MWM) movement, which has already achieved their goal of enabling more than 1 million mentorships for young women and girls to learn about career choices and advancement in STEM programs and fields. MWM provides step-by-step instructions on how you can help organize mentoring at your workplace and in your community.


In addition to establishing successful Mentor-Mentee relationships in your organization, you should also look at creating or updating your apprenticeship programs.


Apprenticeships have been widely accredited for being a building block of the growing German economy and its success in building highly complex — and highly coveted —  products, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars.


In response to the German apprentice programs, a new American new program for apprenticeships is worth noting. This month, the governors of 20 US states, under the leadership of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, announced a joint effort to create a skills-based labor market. This new program, dubbed the Skillful State Network, seeks to combine the disparate efforts of various state governments into a more effective, larger shared program that seeks to pursue best practices for training and recruiting skills-based employees.



Formaspace Welcomes Young Women and Girls into STEM Careers


Modular Lab Instrument Bench


Whether you are building or expanding an existing research facility, laboratory, educational institution, science museum, or makerspace, Formaspace is here to help.


As a leading manufacturer of furniture for Fortune 500 companies as well as innovative startups, we have the expertise to help make your initiatives successful.


Talk to one of our friendly Formaspace Design Consultants, located here in our factory headquarters in Austin, Texas.


We’ll be happy to share our long-time experience in creating productive, attractive, and ergonomic interior furniture solutions that will help you work more efficiently and productively for years to come.



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