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April 11, 2017

Creating Diversity by Disrupting STEM Stereotypes for Teenagers – Especially Girls

GirlScouts
Girl Scouts at the STEMapalooza in Chicago learned about AWIT’s #MakeTechHerStory
campaign and careers in technology.
Building robots and telling digital stories are some of the fun ways kids learn about technology, but many middle schoolers — especially girls — steer clear of these classes, per a new study. Some think it’s “boring,” and others think computers are just for boys. Others can’t find someone like them working in tech. It’s those types of notions keeping girls from pursuing technology as an interest or a career.

“Preconceived notions of what a STEM career entails may be derailing the interest of young people, especially girls,” said Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer for Accenture, which surveyed more than 8,500 young people, parents and teachers for the study.

Eleven is the critical age when girls start to choose activities besides technology and science – and exactly when groups focused on getting more girls in STEM pounce. Through mentoring, entrepreneurial projects and hands-on playtime, girls get a look at how much fun there is in technology, and how many career options are open to them, too.

Shaping New STEM Attitudes Along the Gender Dimension


Tech organizations around the world are upending the traditional tech space to personalize the space for girls and women. The Stemettes, a UK-based group, explain “why the future is teenage girls” in their new documentary, “Eat. Sleep. STEM. Repeat.” Here in the U.S., TechGirlz creates hands on projects that give girls a sense of community, creativity and other constructive feelings that keep them excited about technology.

In Chicago, Latin@ Techies holds civic hacking events every week to improve neighborhoods, and another UK organization, Girls in STEM, stages events that reach thousands of girls, aged 11 to 13, throughout London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

There are so many groups that CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology Community (AWIT) is building a database of organizations related to bringing girls and women into technology.

“It’s a tapestry of organizations,” said Cathy Alper, AWIT’s community chair. “Think of it like a quilt. All the different organization are different quilt pieces, and when you stand back to look at it, you can see that they all fit together to form a unified piece.”.

To foster interest in technology, AWIT offers Dream IT, a toolbox of resources to show young women the benefits of tech careers. The first tool, Intro to Tech, explores job types and salaries in Career Areas. Girls who want real-life examples of women working with technology can check out Real IT Stories, which features dozens of stories and photos from across the globe.

“Dream IT is a full package of resources to help women and girls understand more about technology,” Alper explained. “Projects like this help us bring in and retain more girls in computer science.”

Parents are key to helping kids bust tech myths, too. In the Accenture survey, many adult respondents noted that their kids don’t see a connection between robotics classes and their long-term career plans. More than 50 percent said their kids don’t see how STEM classes will lead to good jobs.

To help parents connect these dots, Charles Eaton, executive vice president, social innovation, for CompTIA, and CEO of Creating IT Futures, authored the new book, Launching Your Teen’s Career in Technology: A Parent’s Guide to the T in STEM Education. (Eaton’s book is available to our blog readers at a 10-percent discount. Visit TinSTEM.com and enter BLOG17 as the coupon code.)

“Anyone who understands technology and wants to use it for a larger purpose should consider a career in technology,” Eaton wrote in the book’s first chapter, which is focused on busting myths about tech careers. (You can read Eaton’s 7-part “Bust the Tech Myths” blog series here.)

If you’re looking for a way to help, spend 10 minutes on the Dream IT site to find programs in your area focused on bringing girls into tech. Start exploring and see where you can lend a hand or get involved.

Special Correspondent Michelle Lange is a, writer, designer and business owner living in Chicago.