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Early STEM education will lead to more women in IT

Kenneth Corbin | April 1, 2014
A leading advocate for introducing girls to computer science argues that educators must develop required programs at the K-12 level to resolve gender imbalance in the tech sector.

Gavin concedes that it's bigger than just the question of participation among women. "Yes, there are very few women pursuing computer science, but there are also very few people pursuing computer science," she says. "It's not just a women problem, it's a people problem. It's a real people problem."

Promote STEM by Highlighting Tech Job Satisfaction, Salaries

Students can name any number of objections to pursuing computer science, so there's no single approach to sell skeptical kids on working toward a career in the field.

The fact that STEM workers earn higher wages can be a good start. On average, employees in STEM jobs earn 26 percent more than workers in other fields, according the Department of Commerce. "For some kids, it's money," Gavin says. "Especially for kids in the underprivileged communities, money is a huge motivator."

She also cites studies suggesting that software engineers are among the workers most satisfied with their careers. Other students might be inspired by the potential to harness technology to effect positive change in the world, for instance, and might imagine themselves developing apps that improve healthcare or promote energy efficiency.

"But more than anything, even though you say this to them, and even though they recognize how cool it is," Gavin says, "You can show them video games, robots, mobile apps, whatever [and they say, 'I get all that. It's not for me.'"

Adds Hannah Valentine, senior associate dean at Stanford University: "At the core of it is a sense of not belonging."

That argues for the importance of an experiential component to STEM exposure. Often, when students step inside the headquarters of a tech firm and get to interact with smart, motivated workers in a fun environment, that's when it clicks, Gavin says.

To that end, she urges educators to reach out to local businesses to arrange a visit for their students. "These tech companies are way more open to bringing kids in than you think you are," Gavin says. "If you can get your kids in on a field trip to any tech company — it doesn't even have to be the sexiest one, it doesn't have to be Google."

 

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