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Where Are the Women in STEM?

Here we are in 2017. Seems a lot of things have regressed, including the progress of women in the workplace - or at least that's true in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) disciplines. Not only are women paid less than men regardless of the field they're in, but only about a quarter of STEM jobs are filled by women in the first place. There are a number of reasons as to why that is, and it can all be linked to the fact that we still live in a sexist society. The US Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistics Administration produced an eye-opening guide which highlights some of those gaps both in the workplace and in education. You can read that guide here (external link). Everywhere you look, as a society, we still enforce gender stereotypes...

There’s a giant gender gap in tech.

Hammocks. Gourmet food. Fitness classes on site. Free Shuttles. What can’t you find on the campuses of tech giants these days? Women. There’s a giant gender gap in tech, and it’s posing a problem for the industry. The generally accepted figure for the number of women in tech is 30%, but if you look at the actual percentages of women holding engineering roles, that figure shrinks considerably. Let’s look at some of the giants in the industry. At Facebook and Google, women make up about a third of the workforce, but only 16% of technical jobs at Facebook and 18% at Google are held by female engineers. At, Twitter non-technical positions have a near equal gender split, but only 10% of engineering jobs are filled by women. And if you look at the stats for the entire continent of Europe, only 7% of engineers are women. This lack of women in tech isn’t just a corporate responsibility issue, or a women’s issue; it’s actually hurting companies’ bottom lines. As Toptal co-founder and COO Breanden Beneschott explains, addressing the gender gap is “not just diversity for the sake of diversity. If men and women are equally intelligent, statistically speaking, then out of the smartest ten people in the world, five should be male and five should be female. Thus, if your team is anything less than an equal balance of men and women, then your team is probably not the best it can be.” The numbers back Beneschott up. Studies show that gender-balanced teams outperform all-male or all-female teams, so much so that making the transition from a homogenous team to a gender-balanced one can increase revenue by 41%. And, companies with at least one woman on the executive board receive valuations that are 64% higher than those who have an exclusively male leadership slate. It’s pretty simple. Teams that don’t have women aren’t as creative or productive as they could be, and this is a problem stifling the entire industry. It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly why there are so few women in tech, but according to Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani, popular culture and a lack of knowledge about the industry are two major deterrents. From TV shows like Silicon Valley that promote the stereotype that an engineer is a t-shirt clad guy to Forever 21 tank-tops that read “allergic to algebra” across the chest, girls are getting the message that tech is a man’s domain. And they’re taking note. In Middle School, 74% of girls express interest in studying STEM fields. By the end of High School, however, only 0.4% intend to pursue computer science degrees. What this means is that closing the gender gap is going to take a whole lot more than stronger recruitment efforts. There simply aren’t enough female engineers in the job market to reach anything close to parity right now. Closing the gap requires companies addressing the root of the problem, which begins in the classroom and schoolyard, not at job fairs. The good news is that...

Girl making robot

Innovation is happening…without media focus

One of our readers directed us to this organization called Uncharted Play, which was started by Harvard graduates in 2012 and has garnered international attention for all the right reasons. The two women in charge wanted to relate their experiences with helping the developing world in a practical manner, and after attending an engineering class, they created the Soccket, a soccer ball that provides off-the-grid energy after playing with it! You can read more about the process and their backstory on their website unchartedplay.com (and I highly recommend you do). The site also has a new-ish product, the Pulse, which is a jump rope that also provides energy (that can charge your cell phone) after using! The site claims that “With every purchase, Uncharted Play give one child access to our energy-generating play products and our Think Out of Bounds curriculum,” which is their own educational resource that bolsters creative thinking in children outside of the classroom. This kind of organization is exactly what the Franklin Foundation (and I personally) supports and strives to see more of: American innovation, women in science, helping solve problems in the community, philanthropy, providing practical education experience and positivity for children, and being overall awesome! (And no, they aren’t paying me to say this!) I was overjoyed to be referred to this website, and did a little digging online to see what kind of attention they got with their revolutionary product. Like I said, they do have some international attention (especially since one of the founders herself is Nigerian), and they have received some impressive press here in the US, but it seems as though something like this should have more than a few thousand Facebook likes and twitter followers. It’s a pretty simple concept – a ball you can kick around that provides renewable energy for people with little to no access to a safe energy resource. I’m sure the mechanics of how it actually works is much more complicated, but that’s outside my field of understanding for now. But the idea of solving a major problem with a simple solution is what really got my attention. Think about it, a child plays soccer for a while during the day, and has a personal reading light to do homework with at night. Or get a 15 minute cardio workout with a jump rope, charge your cell phone with it once you’re done. It’s the kind of inventions we all think about as kids, but rarely seem to exist or come into fruition as adults; at least, not often enough. And the ones that do exist don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. We should be seeing celebrity endorsements of these kinds of products instead of hearing about who is the new face for whatever clothing or makeup line. Actually, why not both at the same time? “Jennifer Lawrence gets her Dior-wearing body in shape with her renewable-energy jump rope!” Money, I’m sure, is the main reason that smaller, non-profit organizations don’t get as much attention, but it’s also...

How Interest in STEM Education Gets Crushed

Piggybacking off of Mr. Cleary’s and Dr. Clark’s posts, I had my own unique experience with a lackluster STEM education in grade school, but in reverse. When I was younger I remember being asked what my favorite subject in school was, as people often do with elementary school children. And my answer back then was usually math or science because those classes were fun to me. But somewhere along the line that changed from science to English, because a.) I was better at it, and b.) science and math were no longer fun to me. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a pretty good student in grade school and usually made good grades in every subject, but only because I felt like I had to. Even though I didn’t like them, I still felt the need to work hard in science and math classes because I knew they were important subjects....

STEM Education grows from the Root

When the world talks about STEM education for the most part they talk around elementary teachers rather than to us.  Not as an insult or slur upon our value, simply as a mater or course. Most “real” science does not start until middle school or even high school; and for schools in poverty perhaps not even then. However, with the need to develop more students ready to step into STEM careers, and the corresponding efforts to grow educational foundations in those area elementary science will play a pivotal role. A 2012 report on student motivation toward STEM careers, out of The University of Nevada (How to Motivate US Students to Pursue STEM Careers by Md. Mokter Hossain, Michael G. Robinson) seems to disagree. Their paper suggested “Students need to be inspired in STEM subjects beginning in the middle school grades with course work extracurricular activities focusing on honing problem solving skills in the high school grades.” While I have no issue with the research of the Nevada team I believe their conclusion is short-sighted on two fundamental points. Students are not inspired by course work and extracurricular programs. They do those things because they have already been inspired.  Perhaps more importantly, waiting to provide inspiration until middle and high school is a large part of the problem. Where the extracurricular programs studied by the Nevada team found success were in projects where students could create and own their projects and therefore their success. These programs, like Science Olympiad and First Robotics are building and inspiring students to continue to pursue lofty and rigorous goals. However these activities are limited to those teens that already see appeal in such groups. In effect, they enhanced the growth rate of the STEM but not the root. A child’s opinion and attitude toward both math and science is formed long before they enter middle school.  Even the most conservative estimates suggest that student perceptions of their own abilities are established by seven or eight years old. While there is a clear distance between perceived ability and inspiration, there is also a tangible link connecting the two. Students, who do not feel they can be successful in math or science are less likely to be inspired to do math and science. Planning to ignite a flame in the belly of young science students in middle school is akin to trying to gather firewood on a rainy day.  The task is restricted to those that have been sheltered from the storm unless someone was smart enough to plan well ahead.  If parents and teachers do not create a receptive and fertile field for STEM inspiration in elementary school the quality and quantity of science programs in middle school and beyond will only serve the a same small percentage of the population. When we are successful we feel empowered to continue; the rush of dopamine through our brains masks the memory of painful struggles and past loss to convince us that we our masters of our own destiny. Students that are successful in math and science work harder than...

International Women’s Day

Sunday, March 8th was International Women's Day. To celebrate, Tech giant Microsoft posted this moving YouTube spot. It features young girls interested in science and technology, and highlights STEM’s persistent gender confidence gap. At The Franklin Foundation, our key focus is to close this gap by encouraging America's young women to pursue careers in the sciences and technology. We believe more women in the sciences and technology is important to the health of American innovation. Click here to learn how our programs work to develop young women into scientists. Let's celebrate International Women's Day everyday - and encourage our young girls to explore careers in the sciences, mathematics, technology, and engineering disciplines. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eJYW4ew5eg&feature=youtu.be Do you have a daughter, granddaughter, or niece? Are they interested in STEM careers? Let us know and share your own experiences if you yourself are in a STEM discipline....

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