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Progress on the Gender Front at the US News STEM Solutions Conference

We’ve been telling young women again and again that they should get involved with STEM courses and careers to help bridge the gender gap in those fields. And late last month, at the US News STEM Solutions Conference, panelists discussed progress in getting women to sign on to STEM. There are still challenges in the future.

“The issue about the gender gap in STEM is beginning to go away,” says Mimi Lufkin, CEO of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity. “[However] there are a lot of people who believe this problem has disappeared, but it hasn’t.” Lufkin moderated a panel on the topic at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in San Diego, called ‘Progress on the Gender Front in STEM,’ where they discussed ways to shrink that gender gap even further. Check out the link to see videos from the conference.

The panel consisted of many female role models in STEM related fields: Audrey Goins Brichi, manager of diversity and inclusion in Chevron’s Office of Global Diversity, Ombuds and University Partnerships; Kimberly Wright Cassidy, president of Bryn Mawr College; and Linda Hallman, executive director and CEO at the American Association of University Women.

According to Lufkin, the problem begins early. Low percentages of female high school graduates report that they like math or science, or that it’s one of their favorite classes. Cassidy tells US News that educators must make sure all students have the skills they need to understand science if this dynamic is to change.She encourages educators to consider whether they are creating an environment for people to do well in science if that is the field they decide to pursue. “If those students don’t have the basic skills, they will fail,” she says.

To give some perspective on why women should be involved in these STEM careers, Hallman gives an example about airbags that could have used a woman’s touch. When airbags were first created, they harmed more women and children than men–because they were designed by men and tested on mannequins that were built like men. “No woman was in the creative team to work on that,” Hallman says. “Diversity is absolutely vital to all these STEM areas, and it makes really good business sense.”

Companies and colleges are also looking to make their halls even more diverse than before. At Chevron, says Brichi, “What we are trying to foster is ally-building. While you may look for someone who looks like you, you may find someone instead who neither looks like you nor has the same background as you.”

The same is true at Bryn Mawr College, says Cassidy. Though it is a women’s-only college, there are mentorship programs will all-male colleges. The 25 percent to 30 percent of the program’s graduates are STEM majors.

The bottom line, as Hallman puts it, is that women need to be able to see the societal benefits they can provide through STEM work.”It can make an incredible difference to the entire world,” she says, no matter which field they choose to pursue. We certainly hope that young women are listening in to all these suggestions and decide that STEM careers are the way to go!

photo credit: Lab via photopin (license)

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