February 10, 2017
“Women are a major force in our society,” writes Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor at MIT. “If women don’t belong in engineering, then engineering, as a profession is irrelevant to the needs of our society.”
Not only do women make up less than 30% of researchers worldwide (and in some places, less than 20%), they often go unrecognized for their achievements and are slower to grow in their careers.
The obstacles for women interested in pursuing STEM-related fields and education are vast. Cultural, institutional, and social barriers often prevent women and girls from accessing the same education and career opportunities as their male counterparts.
In a study published by Yale University, scientists were more likely to view male job candidates more favorably than equally qualified female candidates. They were also apt to pay female scientists less.
In an effort to close the gender gap and increase female interest in STEM related fields, the U.S. Department of State has teamed up with Intel, Google, Microsoft, the United Nations Foundation, and others to create the annual Women in Science (WiSci) STEAM Camp for girls interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Each year, the camp brings together students from the U.S. and around the world in a unique learning environment like Rwanda, Peru, and this year, Malawi. But it’s not just about what happens in the classroom—the program also provides networking and mentorship directly from employees of Microsoft, Intel, and Google, among others.
But what does the “A” in “STEAM” stand for? Art! The camp aims to not only teach the rigor and wonder of traditional science, but also incorporate culture, design, and the value of creative thinking into its curriculum.
“The theory behind public-private partnerships like WiSci is that if we give girls technical skills, teach them how to network, inspire in them a global outlook, and match them with mentors, they can be high academic achievers, launch their own businesses, or successfully compete for jobs in the rapidly evolving global technology industry,” said Frances Colón, Deputy Science and Technology Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State.
Many of today’s challenges in the developing world rely on science and technology— from global health to sustainability— so it’s more critical than ever to engage the women and girls in these countries to be a part of the solution. In Rwanda and Malawi, for example, women still only make up around 20% of the countries’ researchers. Hosting programs like the WiSci Camp in these places is helping to change that.
“WiSci has opened my eyes and shown me that, although I am ‘a girl’, I can find my place, fight for my rights and pursue everything that I love, like science and technology,” said Leslie, a 2016 camper from Peru. “I have been the victim of countless rejections, but now I know that they will not happen again since my mindset and empowerment have been enriched.”
As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we look to impactful public-private partnerships like WiSci to continue to create opportunities and paths to educate girls across the globe. As stereotypes and social barriers around women in science diminish, the number of female role models and mentors in these fields will continue to increase. More women in science means more brainpower working on some of the world’s toughest problems—and that benefits all of us.