Our goal in the capital area is to become an exemplary STEAM region in America, but there’s a massive challenge and opportunity surrounding the perceptions (and realities) of attracting women into STEAM fields. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women only make up 29 percent of the science and engineering workforces.
Frequently, there are only a few women in the IT/technology-related meetings or forums I attend. STEAM fields are a core part of our future economy and where much of the impact on our society will be determined for years to come. I have long believed you cannot expect things to change if you are not willing to take the first step yourself. Sometimes the first step is bringing awareness to an injustice or creating a forum for dialogue to take place. In order to make sure women have a seat at the table, we have to start now, providing opportunities and instilling confidence in our youth. I believe that, from a young age, parental engagement is vital to the continuing advancement of women in underrepresented fields.
Providing support and encouragement is just as important as providing the opportunity to participate in programs and activities. For me, there are four keys to long-term success: • Exposure - Start exposing girls to STEAM career fields in elementary school or earlier. Local programs such as the Information Technology Empowerment Center’s 2020 Girls and Impression 5 Science Center‘s girls-only summer L.A.B.S. are great places to start.:
- Mentorship - Matching girls with women who can provide guidance and encouragement can be incredibly beneficial. Having someone to look up to goes a long way. It is difficult to consider a field when you are not exposed to it. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. A great local resource is the Michigan Science Center‘s STEMinsta Project
- Advocacy - Identifying individuals or businesses who will promote, support and proactively identify opportunities, forums and events for girls. Dewpoint hosts 40 to 60 9-to 13-year-old girls for an afternoon of STEAM and empowerment activities each year. It’s not enough to give money or sponsor programs. We need to get our hands dirty and look for opportunities to lift up and actively identify and promote girls who show promise and help lead them to the positions, internships, scholarship programs, technology camps or leadership forums for youth.
- Empowerment - It is not only about intelligence, it is about confidence, determination and internal fortitude to persevere. Registering girls for programs such as Michigan State University’s empowHER Leadership Retreat and Olivet College’s Athena International Girls’ Leadership Camp are great places to start.
Gone are the days when science, technology and manufacturing were only for boys. By exposing girls to the opportunities in these fields through mentorship, role models, advocacy and empowerment, we are on track to having half of the country’s STEAM-related jobs filled by women.
Michelle Massey is a vice president for Dewpoint, based in Lansing, Michigan. With over 25 years of information technology industry experience, she manages Dewpoint’s overall corporate branding through marketing, public relations and community engagement. Her responsibilities include business development, communications and community outreach.