Children Now Insider: Tapping Our Natural Reserves in STEM

Why we need to increase the number of women entering the STEM workforce

By Paula Golden
Guest Author, President, Broadcom Foundation

September 4, 2019

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Although women make up approximately half of the U.S. labor market, only 28 percent of STEM workers are female. While this number is slowly on the rise, we need to accelerate the pace if we intend to stay competitive in the global economy. Moreover, we need to inspire and empower young women of color – particularly Latinas and African Americans – to enter the STEM workforce as they are woefully under-represented at 4 and 3 percent respectively, in university STEM programs and as scientists or engineers.

Under-represented constituencies, including emigres and first-generation students in both urban and rural communities are our ‘national STEM reserve’ that can turn the trickle of a STEM-ready workforce into a torrent. Tapping into a well-spring of bright, diverse, STEM-minded young women is a secret weapon we must unleash to stay ahead in the worldwide race for innovation and excellence in science, engineering and technology. While this should be obvious, the challenges to achieving this goal are legion.

Although the number of women awarded STEM degrees has increased in the last decade, they are not enough to move the needle. There is deep concern throughout the country that we are failing to provide the STEM education that the majority of our young people, male and female, need to qualify for meaningful job opportunities in STEM fields. Correspondingly, there are major challenges in retaining women in the STEM workplace. Wage disparity between men and women remains a national scandal and workplace hostility and isolation of women in the STEM fields need to be addressed throughout the business community.

This is why the Broadcom Foundation actively supports STEM Education Ecosystems at the national and local level and commits all of its programs to achieving gender parity in addition to 21st century skills-building for youth in order to improve long-term gains for women in STEM.

Consider, for example, Broadcom MASTERS® (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering as Rising Stars), a program of Society for Science and the Public and the premier international middle school science and engineering fair competition. Broadcom MASTERS participants reap the benefits of project-based learning, collaboration with teachers, mentors and professional scientists and engineers. Research shows that middle school is around the time that girls lose interest in STEM subjects, and yet over 50 percent of the 2019 competitors in the Broadcom MASTERS were girls. This is very much by design: the applications are developed with achieving gender equity in mind, knowing that research shows boys and girls respond to questions framed in different ways.

The Broadcom MASTERS final competition in October is designed around gender-balanced teams in order to teach boys and girls to collaborate at an early age by practicing communication – and listening – skills. This helps women develop confidence that will serve them well in the rigors of a STEM workforce environment.

While programs like the Broadcom MASTERS encourage gender-equity, for a lot of young women, especially first-generation students or those whose families are unfamiliar with coursework that leads to STEM careers, a key challenge is exposing them to exciting careers they can have in STEM. As a friend of mine who leads 4,000 Girl Scouts in one of our STEM Ecosystems reminds me, ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’ It is essential to give girls a vision of the opportunities they can have in STEM, both in and outside of the classroom, so they will choose the right courses to achieve their dreams.

For example, coding is not just for hackers – it’s a fun way to get girls excited about STEM careers. Girls can express their interests in design, health, environment and education through coding games and challenges. As I say to my granddaughter, who is a Minecraft buff, a woman who codes can do ANYTHING! Girls can start coding in Code Clubs or get involved in Coder Dojo in order to find their way along a career path. Joining organizations like the Girl Scouts, Girls Who Code or Black Girls Code can create a cohort of interested and supported friends with whom to share a new passion.

It is also essential to identify female mentors who can inspire, support and encourage young women. With so few women of color in an already limited pool of female scientists and engineers, it behooves everyone to pitch in their time to support and mentor the next generation. Through mentorship, young women learn how to process problems, develop solutions and work effectively in ways that might be a bit different than their male counterparts. Moreover, mentors can share the history of women’s contributions to math, science, and even software design when the technology was in its infancy. All of these build confidence – a critical element for women to be successful in the STEM workforce.

We are poised for unparalleled technological success in this country with an upcoming generation brimming with potential. We need to take advantage of the opportunity they present and help mold them into a diverse and robust STEM workforce. We can achieve this by committing ourselves to tapping into our natural resource with educational tools and support that will ensure their access and interest in STEM fields.

To learn more about the work that the Broadcom Foundation is doing to support and encourage young women in STEM, please visit their website.

Paula Golden initiates innovative partnerships with nonprofits, universities and non-government organizations (NGOs) to elevate STEM literacy and create equitable access to STEM education, close the STEM education gap for women and underrepresented groups, and ensure that young people are empowered with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in STEM careers. She is a leader in the National STEM Funders Network and STEM Education Ecosystem Initiative which create collaborative partnerships among formal and informal STEM educators and advocate throughout the United States and abroad.

Paula spearheads the Broadcom MASTERS® and Broadcom MASTERS® International, world-renowned middle school science and engineering competitions of the Society for Science & the Public, that enable students to become future scientists, engineers and innovators by encouraging them to elect requisite math and science courses in high school. She has created partnerships such as Broadcom Presents: Design_CODE_Build, the Girl Scouts Orange County STEM badge, Raspberry Jam and Coolest Projects.  These programs deploy the Raspberry Pi® to inspire students of all ages to learn coding and related math-principles courses such as algebra in order to access ever-expanding career opportunities that require knowledge of engineering and computer science.

Paula earned her B.A. in English and Education from Wellesley College and her J.D. cum laude from New England School of Law where she served as Assistant Dean and Instructor of Law. As a former host of community cable programs, an Emmy finalist, a TedX presenter and a blogger for the Huffington Post, The Hill and Medium, Paula utilizes media relations and social networking to communicate that STEM innovation is essential to advancing society, ensuring sustainability and improving quality of life for all.

Paula’s contributions to non-profit thought leadership and creating inclusion and equality in STEM education have been widely recognized, including awards and accolades from the University of California at Irvine, Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN) and the Women in Defense (WID).