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Are We Talking our Girls Out of STEM?

When we look at the statistics, it is still very clear that women are extremely underrepresented in Science, Technology and Math (STEM) careers. Half of the U.S. workforce is female, and half of the college population, however, only 28% are in STEM fields[1] and only 39% of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers and 12 percent of civil engineers are female[2]. Additionally, research shows that women who complete STEM degrees are less likely than males to actually pursue a STEM career.

There are many reasons that experts site for this – societal influence, lack of opportunity, lack of interest, stereotypes, explicit and implicit bias. For example, according to a paper by the White House - STEM Depiction Opportunities – in depictions of STEM professionals in family films, men outpace women 5 to 1, and in portrayals of computer scientists and engineers, men outpace women 14.25 to 1.

Additionally, President Obama speaking at the 2015 White House Science Fair emphasized "Part of the problem is we don’t tell the stories enough of the incredible scientists and inventors along the way who are women, or people of color, and as a consequence, people don’t see themselves as potential scientists."

In many ways, we are often caught teaching our girls out of STEM.

Changing the status quo, closing this gender gap, and talking our girls into STEM is a key focus of Symantec's and a cause we are deeply committed to.

We recently set a goal to excite, engage, and educate one million students in STEM education by 2020, including a focus on female students. To do this we work with a variety of partners that have leading STEM programs tapping into the passions of young girls and providing an opportunity to channel current strengths or uncover future ones.

Two of these partners are targeting females 12-14 years of age, the age that research shows is a critical period for influencing a female's belief in her capabilities and future opportunities.

  • Mentoring for the Nation's Largest Computer Science Competition

Through our partnership and grant with Project CS Girls, a nonprofit working to close the technology gender gap, we support the organization's annual nationwide computer science competition, the largest computer science competition for middle school students in the United States. Symantec employees mentor students through the competition, which challenges girls to develop a computer science/technology based solution to a societal problem.

The 2016 competition winners definitely speak for themselves and would have most second-guessing these solutions came from teenagers. They included a wearable device to support dementia patients and caregivers, a hunger and obesity prevention app, an app to help teens with mental illness, an environmentally friendly device to reduce barnacle growth on marine vessels and more – all solutions extremely impressive at any age.

  • STEM Camp for Rising Students

Through our partnership with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), we support the organization's national Tech Trek Program, week-long camps that expose leading American 8th graders (13-14 years of age) to how STEM careers solve some of the world's largest problems as well as providing them with valuable STEM training and skills. Topics range from robotics to engineering to aerospace to cybersecurity. Click here to read one Tech Trekker's experience!

Founded in 1881, AAUW "the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls" and has been recognized by the White House for its cutting edge programs to close the STEM gender gap.

This year we will again support Tech Trek, however, our involvement will help expand cybersecurity curriculumdeveloped last year to additional camps, as well as refining the curriculum to engage and excite students.

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AAUW Tech Trek Stanford, CA campers see cybersecurity in action at Symantec's headquarters.

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Symantec cybersecurity leader Meg Layton inspires girls in STEM at Project CS Girls National Gala.

In a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the Project CS Girls national competition, 14-yr old Baheen Huzan, a STEM achiever who recently placed second in the competition, is quoted saying "It's pretty hard to be a girl and say I want to do computer science, because I've gotten those weird looks from people before." Alternatively she says in the article, girls are often focused on Justin Bieber or following their favorite pop star or TV shows.

While the latest Bieber fever is likely here to stay, we will continue to join our partners in creating a world where among a young girl's many interests and passions – an interest and career in STEM is most often one of them.

Questions? Contact [email protected].

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