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As a woman in technology, it matters to me that young girls remain interested in and pursue careers in STEM. The lack of women in STEM is of international interest, but in the United States (US), it is a national issue. Currently in the US, only 25% of STEM professionals are women. Encouraging young girls to stay interested in STEM is one step forward to retaining women in the technology field.
The Leaky Tech Pipeline shows that women are dropping out of STEM at every stage of life. Research shows that boys and girls in the US start with equal interest and aptitude in STEM but by middle school, 26% of girls drop out of the field. What could cause Â¼ of girls to drop out so early?
We live in an age where children spend half their waking hours consuming media. Children are impressionable; what they see on TV shapes their perceptions of their potential and their role in society. If girls see female characters on TV being bad at math and the boys excelling, that’s what they will start to believe.
Growing up, I thought Lindsay Lohan’s character in “Mean Girls” was cool for being the one who correctly answered the winning question at the state math competition. But apparently I was the only one. I didn’t understand why her interest in math made her weird. Why was joining the math team considered social suicide?
She pretended that she didn’t understand math problems to get a boy’s attention. She started to fail math so she could talk to him. She even asked him for help, knowing that he was wrong. His steps were wrong, his answers were wrong, but she continued to pretend to be someone she was not. I was genuinely confused. Why did she need to dumb herself down to feel accepted by her peers? Why did she think boys wouldn’t like her if she was smart?
TV shows rarely have a female protagonist who is strong, independent, intelligent and beautiful. However, if the character is intelligent, she possesses certain quirks that are viewed as undesirable. Even “The Big Bang Theory,” a show about physicists, compares attractive Penny with socially-awkward, nerdy Amy forcing the viewers to think who would want to be Amy? How can we expect the next generation of girls to pursue STEM subjects when the media depicts intellectual women in a negative light?
We need young girls to stay interested in STEM to help fix the leaky pipeline and keep more women in tech. But why does this matter? Women in STEM boost productivity and profitability. Women on tech teams boost problem-solving and creativity. Teams that have at least 1 female member outperform all-male teams. And return on investment is higher for tech companies with more women in management.
So what is the solution? We need to celebrate the accomplishments of women in STEM and promote awareness of their achievements. Anita Borg and Grace Hopper laid the foundation for present day technology, But how many people know of their contributions to computer science? Katherine Johnson shattered the stereotype about women in mathematical computation with her contributions to the NASA space program. However, her contributions became common knowledge after the movie “Hidden Figures” was released.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman tells Rachel that “Gotham needs a hero with a face” for the city to be saved. Similarly, today’s young girls need a “hero with a face” to look up to and aspire to become. Because if she can see it, she can be it.