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STEM Has Traditionally Underrepresented Women and Girls. The Tech Sector is Working to Change That.

As we close out our celebration of Women's History Month, it’s important to look at the challenges and opportunities within the STEM field when it comes to encouraging and supporting women within the industry.

History has not accepted or valued women as equal contributors to society. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) recognizes that research shows no innate cognitive biological differences between men and women in math. Nevertheless, STEM fields have been defined by society within the constraints of a masculine parameter and excluding girls and women from this dimension creates an inequitable advantage for males within the industry.

Girls are generally not encouraged to pursue STEM careers throughout K-12 education. However, K-12 education is vital because it lays one's educational foundation during formative years. The U.S. Census notes that in 1970 women were 39% of the workforce and only 8% of STEM workers. Gradually, these numbers have improved. Recent studies show that women now represent half of the national workforce yet still only account for 27% of STEM jobs. Nonetheless, men still overshadow women as 52% of the U.S. workforce yet make up 73% of all STEM workers.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) share that the disproportionate rate at which girls are under-represented in STEM education is deeply rooted and puts a detrimental brake on progress towards sustainable development. Although these numbers have improved, much more needs to be done to create a more inclusive STEM field.

There are a multitude of skills that derive from STEM education. In addition to hard sciences, students can use the skills learned to solve real-world problems and develop systems that can address worldwide and nationwide issues that arise. As the labor market evolves, the demand to fill STEM positions is consistently increasing and not being met. The AAUW highlights that along with the growing need to fill STEM vacancies, a gender gap persists among these innovative jobs of the future.

The technology sector is well aware of these statistics and is working to change the opportunities for girls and women in STEM education and throughout the workforce.

Lawmakers, such as Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), are also conscious of the alarming gender disparity that exists and are working to bring change. In the last Congress, Rep. Lee introduced the Computer Science for All Act of 2019, which created a grant program through the Department of Education to expand computer science efforts to reduce equity gaps and create and support a diverse pipeline. As Congresswoman Lee points out, women and people of color have been shut out from the tech industry for far too long – so these bills are important first steps in making sure that there is a robust and diverse pipeline of talent, as well as an industry that is ready and willing to help tech employees of color thrive. Minority girls are most vulnerable to these disparities due to the widened gap. ITI supported this bill in the past and intend to do so in the future if reintroduced.

Notably, our members also recognize the dire need for change and continued support for minorities, girls, and women in STEM. This month, Visa launched the She’s Next Grant Program. This program creates local grant opportunities for Black women in six cities with the highest concentration of Black-owned businesses, encompassing Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, DC. This initiative aims to eradicate the multitude of unjust barriers Black women CEOs face. The 60 awardees of the grant will win $10,000 and a one-year IFundWomen Annual Coaching Membership. To learn more about this initiative visit here.

Similarly, Microsoft, Amazon, and Intel have also taken steps to make a difference. Microsoft published An action guide to help close the gender gap in STEM for teachers, parents, and education and nonprofit leaders. This guide identifies the following categories to do this work:

  1. Provide role models

  1. Generate excitement

  1. Provide hands-on experience

  1. Provide encouragement, and

  1. Encourage a growth mindset.

Furthermore, among several initiatives, Amazon has partnered with Boolean Girl, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate girls to code, build, invent, and animate by providing girls-only and co-ed classes, camps, and online education where girls can learn coding and engineering in an inclusive environment. Through the use of Amazon Web Services' Nonprofit Credit Program, this organization is able to fund critical overhead costs to fulfill its mission.

In addition, the Intel Foundation is a champion of The Million Girls Moonshot, supporting the initiative of reaching one million girls by expanding engineering and computer science learning opportunities for girls and their families.

Tech companies like Visa, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, and numerous others have made significant strides to close the gender gap. ITI stands ready to continue to advocate before Congress for tech equity across all dimensions and highlight our members' efforts to drive change.

Public Policy Tags: Workforce, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion