STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is a term that is used to group together these academic areas. Discussing and promoting STEM related programs is a priority in Canada because too few female students are pursuing careers in these fields. Globally, men occupy the most seats at the STEM table, account for more than 80% of the STEM pipeline, and share the media’s attention for STEM accolades.
There are three important actions that anyone can take to help change the STEM demographic and encourage more women to participate.
Create storytelling in the mainstream media around average men and women in STEM.
Too often the hero or ideal version of a Hollywood STEM character looks like this – a reclusive savant or tormented soul whose genius can only be imagined by the everyday person. Media plays up the stereotypes and sells us an image that is always male and always slightly negative.
In order to better change the landscape, it’s important that we share the everyday STEM success stories. Careers and jobs in STEM jobs are increasing faster than we have the ability to fill them. We need to do a better job communicating the real STEM stories of men and women to inspire the next generation to believe they are capable.
Support the upcoming pipeline of young STEM talents
It’s critical that governments, social enterprises, and technical organizations continue ongoing support of encouraging more young girls into STEM fields. Women account for less than 20% of all engineering graduates. Companies want to hire more women knowing that diversity in company profile translates in to company profitability, but the number of women graduating from pipeline is still a big concern.
Be a Light, Be a Ladder or Be a Lifeboat
The needs for women in STEM are as unique as the individual, so it’s impossible to say how each one can be supported. Be a light and help bring attention to the problems that women face. Use your networks to connect and support the projects that women create. Be a ladder to support, hire, recommend, and mentor the upcoming generation. Be a lifeboat to look for the signs of distress in female STEM employees and be someone that can offer support at critical moments in their careers.
Change is happening. Routinely universities are reporting increased numbers of women in STEM in enrollment, and more and more companies, not-for-profits and education institutions are driving the change at the grassroots levels. Overtime, these stories will continue to strengthen the STEM pipeline.
Stephanie Thompson is an Engineering, and STEM Advocate in Niagara. She recently started her own Social Enterprise, STEM by Steph, to help address the issues of promotion and support of women entering STEM careers and runs workshops to break down barriers for women. Connect with Stephanie on Facebook @WomenInSTEMExperiences.