Research has shown that "no single factor," including biology, "has been shown to determine sex differences in aptitude for science and math." But yet young girls are not choosing STEM-related educational or career paths. Jessica Cantlon, a professor of developmental neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks society and culture are likely steering girls and young women away from math and STEM fields. Previous studies show that families spend more time with young boys in play that involves spatial cognition, while teachers also preferentially spend more time with boys during math class. Cantlon thinks girls pick up on the cues from their parents' expectations for math abilities. So what kinds of corrective cues can we give girls to pique their curiosity and passion for STEM?
Today, technology is typically utilized to solve difficult challenges. Organizations are always on the lookout for people who are skilled with issue identification and analysis, and adept at team-oriented problem resolution. Innovation-focused groups, tech clubs, meetups, and professional organizations provide supportive venues for people to practice and hone their problem-solving skills.
For example, groups like Technovation, a local and national Aspirations in Computing partner, gives girls in K-12 the chance to learn tech skills like creating apps, and then apply that knowledge towards solving real issues in their local communities. Through educational organizations like these, young women can learn various tech-based subjects to suit their interests and to explore new ideas, technical tools, and resources.
Best Buy Teen Centers and PowerUP IT programs are both Twin Cities Aspirations in Computing partner organizations that serve young women and others that are underrepresented and underserved in the technology space. Groups like these do more than teach new skills. They help young people develop strong social skills needed to communicate, engage and achieve team goals. Most importantly, groups like these support the business community and the state’s economic needs for a more inclusive and diversified talent pipeline. These entities provide access and connection to many young people who would otherwise not be afforded the opportunity.
So what kinds of experiences empower and provide underrepresented people the opportunities to benefit from a more level and equal playing field?
Leadership & Growth Opportunities
Experiencing different career and leadership opportunities provides young women the ability to expand their skill set and professional career options.
Zoe Breimhorst, a product manager at Merrill Corporation featured in a recent #StrengthinNumbers blog article, grew into a leadership role by taking a job that wasn’t exactly what she wanted. Instead of waiting around for the perfect position to suddenly appear, she followed a mentor’s advice and took a less glamorous job.
This role taught her the skills she needed for the job she most desired. She learned how to take a genuine interest in others. She was also able to manage a team instead of just working with them. Taking advantage of what may appear to be a less exciting job can help you gain leadership experience and land that dream job — which can be rewarding, challenging, and fulfilling.
Strengthening social skills, for example, boosts networking abilities and opportunities. Tapping the expertise of a mentor opens the door to support, guidance, knowledge, inspiration, and the power of aspirations; which can influence education and career direction. And by helping young women grow their confidence and competence in the tech field, community and industry can propel equitable career advancement for women in tech.
The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Award program is seeking community and business partners to help us increase and expand access to experiential technology learning for young women in Minnesota.