I hope you'll agree with me that we have a serious lack of female engineers, software developers, architects, and mathematicians. Women are painfully underrepresented in the industries and fields responsible for making the products we all use on a daily basis.
The problem is significant & complex. Many governments & businesses including Apple & Google are actively working to root-cause why the results are so dramatic, and what business, governments and individuals can do to reverse the tide.
The good news is the economic opportunities for our girls is massive. Later in the article, I'll share the facts around the projected growth opportunities for STEM careers, and the huge demand there will be for women innovators, engineers, programmers, architects and more.
So the opportunity is vast, and the benefits to both our girls and society overall are significant. The question I've been asking myself, is what I can do about it? How can I help? What can I do to help my daughter be potentially part of the solution?
I've spent the last couple months reading a variety of books, thumbing through research papers, white papers, magazines, and benefiting from some great podcasts, blog posts, and YouTube videos. From what I've learned, here are seven things you should do starting today to help your young daughter consider & pursue a STEM-related career.
These are the steps I'm taking now with my daughter, and I'm already seeing her interests in science, technology, engineering & math increase.
For each step, I'll explain the research and science behind each step and give you three to four practical tips on actions you can start to take today.
Sounds good? Let start!
Around 50% of the world's population is female. According to Forbes, women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, including 65% of new cars, 66% of computers, and 80% of healthcare. Whatever way you slice the data, women control trillions of dollars in worldwide spending, and their purchasing power keeps increasing. Smart companies realize this and the need to create products and marketing that focuses on this highly lucrative segment.
“These are the fields that create the things we use every day in work and play,” says Dr. Catherine Hill, Vice President for research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “These fields are essential to our lives. We need more diversity in the people developing these tools that we use.”
Per Dr. Hill's point, the reality is that the people making the products we use are pre-dominantly men because there is an underrepresentation of women in computer science and engineering careers. This lack of diversity hampers innovation because it is easier for groupthink to seep in and the product team doesn't have the background to realize they are missing several opportunities or perspectives.
People with different experiences and perspectives bring new information to the table. Also, by having men and women interact with each other, all team members are forced to consider alternative opinions and compelling reasons for their cause. This positive tension forces everyone to up their game, leading to better thought through products.
Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer who helped design the tallest building in Western Europe, said "I think that, in any industry, having a diverse workforce is important for ideas. As scientists and engineers we are working for people, and if our teams do not reflect society, then how can we come up with the best solution? It’s important that the people designing or researching things aren’t making assumptions about the way women use a product. Why not involve women and get the right answer? I think women can bring a lot of creativity to the industry and also collaboration skills."
Back in 2014, Apple's HR leadership reviewed their diversity metrics and realized it had some serious issues. Less then 30% of its employees were women, and the percentage of female leaders was considerably worse then that. Considering the probable impact to innovation and ideas, Apple significantly ramped up its efforts and made Inclusion & Diversity a significant corporate strategic initiative. If you visit Apple's Inclusion & Diversity website, you'll see a video that summarizes Apple's point of view on the best way the world works which is:
"No Great thing. No beautiful invention was created in a vacuum. It happens when we leave our comfort zone and come together. Embrace faiths, cultures, disabilities, differences. Embrace races, ages, ideologies, personalities. Creating a tool or device nobody saw coming. Humanity is plural, not singular. The best way the world works is everybody in. Nobody out. So who we are made of is everyone. DIfference not just celebrated, but essential."
Apple's diversity & inclusion video ends with a powerful statement. "The truth is we don't see things the same, the power is we don't see things the same."
Apple's marketing team has a reputation for beautifully articulating Apple's mission. Usually, its written to sell more products. In this case, it reminds us that whole point of the diversity debate is that without diversity, broader society misses out on potentially valuable ideas, perspectives, and points of view. The world needs more female creators.
According to the US Bureau of Labor, the national average wage for all STEM occupations in 2015 was $87,570, nearly double the national average for non STEM occupations ($45,700). Also, employment in STEM occupations grew twice as fast by 10.5% between May 2009 and May 2015, compared with 5.2% in non STEM occupations.
Mathematician and statistician jobs are expected to increase by a whopping 28% between 2014 and 2024. Every day the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. That much data would fill 10 million blu-ray disks, which if you stacked on top of each other, would measure the same height of 4 Eiffel Towers piled on top of each other!
Data scientists who can analyze and leverage this data to predict behavior will be highly in demand. While computer-related jobs are forecasted to only increase by 12.5% in the next ten years, this is still expected to result in half a million new jobs.
The economic opportunity for both boys and girls is enormous, but it's especially acute for girls. The smartest companies realize the purchasing power of women, and the need for female engineers, researchers, mathematicians, software developers, and data scientists to help address that market segment.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently told some female college students "You belong here and we need you." He said "when you’re trying to do stuff for everyone, you need everyone inside to build that. Diversity matters. And I think the best way women help is they bring a very different perspective and they help the journey of building products much much better, and so we deeply care about that."
There is a high demand for female coders, and that demand is expected to increase. A tough, analytical, creative, collaborative female STEM graduate is going to have tremendous leverage & their choice when it comes to deciding where to work. It's going to be a buyers market, and all the companies are going to have to put their best sales pitch together to recruit the top female graduates. I'm almost envious thinking about it.
So the opportunity is vast, and the benefits to both our girls and society overall are significant.
So what can you do about it?
How can you help your daughter be part of the solution?
Here are seven actions you should do starting today to help your young daughter consider & pursue a STEM-related career. If you make it all the way to the bottom of this article, I'll share a bonus tip that maybe the most important of them all!
1. Pay attention to gender stereotypes
5. Importance of Role Models
2. Start from an early age
6. Enjoy culture that supports your values
3. Encourage a growth mindset
7. Leverage positive peer pressure
4. Focus on FUN!!
(See bonus tip at the bottom of the article)
One of the most eye-opening discoveries I've learned while researching this topic is the realization that our girl's perceptions of themselves often lead them to shy away from pursuing STEM-related careers. A 2017 scientific study published in Science Mag concluded that six-year-old girls are less likely to identify girls as being brilliant and that they are much more likely to avoid activities that are described as being for children who are "really, really smart."
In the study, children were told a short story about a person who was "really, really smart." While at the age of five, both boys and girls chose their sex in equal measure, at age six & seven, one third more girls assumed the "really, really smart" person must be a boy. In another test, boys & girls were told about two games. One was for "children who are really, really smart." The other game was for "children who try really, really hard". At the age of five there was no difference between boys & girls, but at age six & seven, girls were less likely to want to play the game for really really smart kids but were more likely than boys to play the game for children who try really hard.
It is interesting to note there was no difference between five-year-old boys and girls. The delta occurred between the ages of six & seven. So somewhere between kindergarten and the start of elementary school, girls in this community were beginning to create a perception that girls are less smart then boys. While it's not clear why this understanding occurred, its something scientists need to continue to study, and something that educators and parents need to be cognizant of.
As indicated earlier, girls perceptions of themselves start early. Even if you've done a great job of creating a culture of "can-do" in your home and avoiding stereotypes, your child is bound to interact with others who aren't as careful. “When you start young, there’s no perception that they shouldn’t do computer science,” says Alice Steinglass, code.org ’s VP of product and marketing. “Everyone takes it. Everyone is excited. There’s an opportunity to start before there are these biases.”
So start encouraging your child right from the start to ask questions, be curious, take some risks and explore.
“Why should we wait until students are five years old and entering kindergarten to begin engaging in STEM activities?” Joshua Sneideman of the Natural Start Alliance wrote. “Students are incredibly active learners at one, two and three years old, and we can start building their foundation in STEM as soon as they enter this world.”
Check out this article I've written on what you can do to promote STEM to your child all the way up to pre-kindergarten. CBS News reporter, Shanika Gunaratna, also wrote a very good article called: Think big, start early: New effort to close gender gap in science starts in preschool.
Earlier I suggested that if we tell our boys they are smart, we should do the same for our girls. But the bigger truth for parents is we should stop labeling both our boys and girls as smart or intelligent. Instead, we should be grading our kids on their effort levels, persistence and ability to take risks. In Dr. Carol S. Dwek's best selling book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she argues that it's not our abilities or talent that earns us our success, but whether we approach our goals with a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
In a fixed mindset, people believe that they are born with their basic abilities.
In a growth mindset, people believe that most of their basic abilities can be developed. A person with a growth mindset correctly realizes that the question they should ask themselves is:
"Am I willing to work hard and get better by learning from my efforts?"
A person with a growth mindset doesn't question if they are smart enough or talented enough. They realize that intellectual skills can be acquired through practice, experiments, and setbacks.
When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft, many thought Microsoft's best days were behind them. For 14 years, under Steve Balmer's leadership, Microsoft's stock price had hovered in the $25-$37 per share range. Going into the end of December 2017, Microsoft's stock price has more than doubled to the high 80's. When Satya Nadella was asked in a Bloomberg interview in 2016 how he was able to change Microsoft's culture. He answered with:
"Culture is something that needs to adapt and change, and you’ve got to be able to have a learning culture. The intuition I got was from observing what happens in schools. I read a book called Mindset. In there, there’s this very simple concept that Carol Dweck talks about, which is if you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all, and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run, even if they start with less innate capability.
That is true for boys and girls in schools. It’s true for CEOs in their jobs. It’s true for every employee at Microsoft. I need to be able to walk out of here this evening and say, “Where was I too closed-minded, or where did I not show the right kind of attitude of growth in my mind?” If I can get it right, then we’re well on our way to having the culture we aspire to."
This is such a core concept of being successful in STEM. Engineers, scientists, and coders regularly fail and have setbacks as part of their jobs. Think about how determined and resolute Cancer research scientists need to be. Their position hinges on the idea of testing or trying out different concepts, and then making adjustments. If we want our kids to be successful in the future, they need to learn this mindset, even if they choose to pursue non STEM-related careers.
The good news is a growth mindset can be developed, and I'm going to write more deeply on this topic in the future.
Take a moment, close your eyes, breathe and think back to when you were five years old.
What do you see?
I bet it's not a mental picture of you studying flashcards, being taught math or watching science videos!
I'm guessing you remember special moments with family and friends.
I still remember the first time I fell off a small wall and broke my arm. Taking a walk in the Lake District in England. Taking the ferry across the English Channel, and seeing the White Cliffs of Dover. Visiting the Natural History Museum in London.
So if you want your child to consider a STEM-related career for their future, then you've got to find a way to make it appeal to them.
If you're looking for more ideas, check out my article: 7 ways to teach STEAM Educational concepts to your kids before kindergarten.
Let's play the reflection game again.
Take a minute to close your eyes, breath and reflect on when you began to realize what you wanted to do when you grew up?
I bet this varies quite considerably.
Some of you may have known very early on exactly what you wanted to do? Some may have had no idea until very late in college. But I'm guessing the vast majority of you had one or two potential aspirations when you were a kid, that may or may not be different from what you are doing today. And I'm guessing this inspiration was planted by either someone you knew or someone you admired.
Role models can have a powerful impact on our children's life. Children can correlate the cause & effect of a person's behavior and their success. If that behavior is positive, for example: having high integrity, resilience or kindness, and they see that same individual is successful, loved or respected, your kids will probably start to follow their example.
On the flipside, if your kids see an older person cheat or backbite AND still be successful; there is a high risk they'll follow that behavior.
So first things first, YOU need to be a great model for your child.
A positive role model walks the walk, modeling the behaviors they want to see their kids exemplify. We all know this is harder then it looks!
Second, you need to expose your child to positive role models, while shielding them from bad behavior.
Have good role models over for dinner. Or a playdate. If you have a relative in a STEM-related career, make sure your child knows and has the opportunity to learn first hand about what they do and why they do it.
My daughter Khadija has wanted to be a pediatrician for two years now, and I'm not 100% sure why. I suspect the drive was cemented on our family vacation to Italy where my youngest brother who is in Medical School, joined us for two weeks. My children adore him, and as they got to intimately know him over those two weeks, Khadija began to get a better sense of who she wanted to be.
Check out this video, by world famous astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, on what characteristics to look for when seeking a role model. The advice is especially helpful for minorities and women.
Lastly, in most cases, it's effective to have local and personal role models that can provide a two-way dialogue on best practices and share life experiences. But there is some real value to having aspirational female role models in your girl's life.
One effective way to do this is to start a nightly bedtime story with your girl, reading Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Your girl will learn about Ada Lovelace, who more than 180 years ago, wrote the first computer program. Margaret Hamilton, the lead engineer, responsible for programming the code that enabled Apollo 11 to land on the Moon. Or two-time Science Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie. Or 97 other remarkable women.
Other books that feature female role models, which your daughter may enjoy include:
In addition to reading books about remarkable women, it's essential that every aspect of culture that your daughter experiences are reinforcing the norms and values you are trying to model to your girl. The messages girls get while watching tv are part of the problem, Venessa Vakharia, the CEO of Math Guru said in Huffington Post article about encouraging girls to get interested in STEM. "Just think of the TV shows, movies and toys targeted at young girls," she says. "Very few of them promote an interest in STEM, and in fact, very few of them promote mathematical intelligence at all!" Fortunately Hollywood is starting to slowly realize there is consumer demand for positive female role models. Here are a few programs your girls may enjoy watching, which will also reinforce your STEM values.
When most of us think of peer pressure, our eyebrows furrow and lines appear across our foreheads, as we revisit how stressful being a kid could sometimes be. Especially at recess, lunchtime or when walking to school. Negative peer pressure is a heavily documented topic which I'm not going to address today. Instead, let's acknowledge the power of positive peer pressure.
Think back to any scenario where you were surrounded by people who were a little more skilled at a certain task or game, and you regularly played with them? How did your skill level change? How did that change compare with the improvement you realized when playing by yourself or with people at the same skill level as you?
Having been born in England and moved to the US when I was 13, my basketball skills have been significantly below average for most of my life. The only period in my life where my skills improved was when I started playing twice a week with co-workers at Apple. I was the worst player on the court by a significant margin, and frankly exited the first game humiliated by my clumsiness and my perception that I was more of a liability than an asset. That wasn't a fun day!
I seriously considered making that my first and last day on the court. But I decided I wasn't going out like that. With my tail between my legs.
When I entered the locker room ahead of the next game, I quietly acknowledged that a few folks were either surprised that I was back or even annoyed. I used that fuel to run hard that day, and while I was still an embarrassment, at least I left it on the court.
Over time, I started to establish a presence as a pretty decent rebounder and defender. Those same individuals that were annoyed by my participation began to over time, respect my hustle and work ethic. And I started to genuinely enjoy myself.
While my basketball skills are still considerably below average, that experience of participating in an activity with peers who were better than me, lifted me up as well.
When I recruit candidates to consider joining Apple, I ask them to consider the benefit of working with some of the best minds in the business to collaborate on bringing to market, innovative products they will be proud of. No question, one reason why I love working at Apple is the fact that every day my skills improve. I know that every day I'm going to be challenged by my peers. If I haven't done my homework, my ideas and opinions won't have any impact. My exceptional peers keep me on my toes, inspire me, and expand my mind to consider possibilities and options that I doubt I would have found myself.
Steve Job's famously said in Walter Isaacson's biography “I’ve learned over the years that, when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. The original Mac team taught me that A-plus players like to work together, and they don’t like it if you tolerate B-grade work.”
So if you want your child to be curious, resilient, striving and interested in exploration or creating things, then surround them with similar kids! Science has shown that children who play together, engaged in more exploratory behavior, learned faster from positive and negative outcomes, and achieved better performance on tasks than those who played by themselves.
Ask your kids teachers or fellow parents if they are aware of any STEM-related groups your child can attend? Or use the internet to search in your area. I find there is no shortage of classes or groups that my child can participate in. For my daughter Khadija, we've established peer groups made up of other Muslim girls for her spiritual training, her friends from school, and Girl Scouts.
The more I get to know about Girl Scouts, the more impressed I get. Recently the Girl Scouts organized a trip to our local Science Museum, where the girls earned their science badge by performing fun experiments and exploring the museum. I made a YouTube video (see below) and wrote a post sharing a little known tip on how to visit hundreds of science museums around the country for free! This Spring, Khadija will have the opportunity go on a Monarch Butterfly Walk, learn beginners first aid training, build a first aid kit, go on a hike, enjoy an overnight stargazing party, and go camping. All before the age of 9, and surrounded by like-minded, resourceful, inquisitive girls.
But the Girl Scouts want to do more to help girls. They've set a goal to prepare at least 2.5 million girls for STEM-related jobs by 2025, and they seem to be on the right track. While in the Girls Scouts, your girls will get an opportunity to explore every aspect of STEM. They'll have fun earning the following badges:
Naturalist, Innovation, Financial Literacy, Science & Technology, and Digital Art.
Girl Scouts have also partnered with organizations such as AT&T (Imagine Your Stem Future), Dell (Journey and Connect through Technology), NASA, Google and more. Most importantly, the girls seem to be enjoying it.
But the Girl Scouts continue to break new ground. At the start of Dec 2017, Fortune Magazine reported that Girls Scouts and the battery company, Raytheon, announced a partnership to aim to prepare girls in grades 6-12 to pursue computer science careers in fields such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science. "Girl Scouts is a network of more than 60 million girls and women, and we serve girls from every residential zip code." said Sylvia Acevedo, GEO of GSUA, "We are the girl experts, and have been for 105 years. With Raytheon’s support, we will inspire millions of girls to explore STEM careers and realize their full potential.”
There is a reason why I included this bonus tip. I feel its critical that we as parents convey a sense of optimism and possibility when we help our children think about their future. This is THEIR future. We should make sure we're not in any way limiting their potential based on gender. We should start early. And we should make it fun!
But what if your daughter would rather play with a Disney Princess then play Doctor? Or doesn't want to play with the coding app? Or isn't in the mood for a nature hike. Then don't force it! This is THEIR future. It'd be a disaster if they end up hating math or science because you tried to force it on them.
My favorite solo artist is Bob Dylan. So when my kids were in kindergarten, I consciously and gratuitously would play Bob Dylan over and over with the kids. Fast forward to now, and both kids unanimously hate Bob Dylan. I stupidly tried to force my taste on them, and now they'll probably never get Bob Dylan.
I almost had the same experience with my daughter and chess. My son picked up chess at a surprisingly young age, and since I was myself a chess addict as a child, I was very excited to teach this skill to both my children. I either started too early with my daughter or was too aggressive in my methods, but the net result was that my daughter found chess to be overly complicated. I could see she started to question her intelligence because she didn't understand what move she should do next. She began to retreat into her shell, paralyzed in a state of indecision, even when I simplified the board. Worse, I got frustrated that she wasn't trying hard enough. Disaster! It took at least two years before my daughter asked me if could play chess with me again.
I'm fortunate that I have a second chance to get this right! I love the game, but that doesn't mean she needs to enjoy it as I do. I'm determined to not make the same mistake again.
If you are struggling with getting your kids to be interested in STEM topics, check out this article by Melanie Pinola on what you can do differently. It's great.
These are eight steps that I've started to implement with my daughter Khadija, to raise her awareness around science, technology, engineering & math. Khadija's already let us know that she wants to be a pediatrician, and my desire to help her realize that dream is the driving force behind starting this site. While Khadija knows she wants to be a doctor, I'm exposing her to other STEM disciplines as well in order to instill the growth mindset I talked about earlier.
As I write this, she's participating in a 15 minutes a day, 15-day coding challenge which is pushing her to problem solve and use code blocks to tell the computer exactly what she wants to happen.
I've also subscribed to Amazon's STEM Toys Monthly club, where we receive a new toy each month which we play with together. Through this club, she's learned about levers, understood how circuits worked, dug for fossils and made potions with a chemistry kit.
Khadija already is an active member of Girls Scouts, but I'm also on the lookout for other STEM type clubs that maybe a good fit. Recently, our local library kicked off a entrepreneurs club that I strongly considered signing her up for.
These are the steps I'm taking as a parent, and I hope this article provided some ideas and suggestions on what you can do to help guide your daughter, especially at a young age. If you have practical tips around introducing STEM to girls, please do share your advice with us using the comments board below!
However, I realize this article is not complete, and these steps alone won't significantly change the tide regarding gender diversity in Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics and other STEM disciplines. Research shows that high school and college are also critical junctures in a girls life, where for a variety of reasons, girls make the decision to pursue a non STEM-related career. In a future article, I'm going to dive deep into why this happens and what we can do about it. I'm also going to write about what companies can do to help make a difference.
With over 16 years of Operations Leadership at Apple, Iftikhar has had pivotal roles in launching the iPod, iPhone, iPad & Apple Watch. In late 2017, he launched k12toSTEMCareer.com with the goal of becoming a better parent to his children, Rizwan and Khadija. Today, over 1214 people follow Iftikhar's writings around STEM & Parenting. Read Iftikhar's personal story about his journey from an Introvert to a Director at Apple.
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