About once a year it seems that I’ll hear some numbers or statistics that make me uncomfortable and a little sad. Usually they come from the CEO of the Girl Scouts of North Texas, but this year they came from my friends at Smith College.
Last week, I had the privilege of heading up to Smith as a guest of the admissions office. Smith is a small, highly selective women’s college in the northeast and I was extremely excited to visit.
You see, I believe that there’s still a place for women’s colleges in education. I’m a huge supporter of single-sex education, particularly for girls who are still trying to figure out who they are. There’s far too much pressure in a co-ed environment, and there’s plenty of research that supports gender bias in the classroom. If you’re one of the lucky females who was (seemingly) born with a strong self-concept, hats off to you! I like to think I’m one of those women, but I also know that I would have benefitted immensely from a single-sex environment in high school and tried to get myself into one… but that’s another story for another day.
Anyway, I digress.
Like the Girl Scouts, Deb Shaver gave us some staggering statistics, but the one that makes me the most uncomfortable is that only 15% of working engineers are women. 15%. (Further, last year I learned that only 20% of women hold STEM degrees. 20%.)
We’ve made so many strides (hello, we can even be nominated for President now!), but we still aren’t working in STEM fields at the same rate as our male counterparts. We aren’t even trying.
This bothers me because I am an engineer.
And every time I hear the stats on how few girls stay interested in STEM, I feel like I sold out. I feel like I should be doing more. I feel like that I’m failing to be a role model for those little girls like me who loved science in elementary and middle school and then at some point between middle and high school believe that they aren’t math and/or science people. That they’re too dumb to do math or science. Or worse yet, that a STEM career isn’t for them because they don’t have a strong enough foundation to make it through their freshman year of college – but they don’t see it that way – they just see that they can’t do it. When… if they had more support, they could.
I know they could.
Because I did.
Here’s the rub though. The problem isn’t just that girls aren’t becoming engineers or going into STEM. The other problem is that girls don’t think they are leaders. Last year, when I heard the CEO of Girl Scouts speak, she gave us these staggering statistics:
92% of girls believe “anyone can be a leader”.
Only 1 in 10 of those girls believe that they have what it takes to be a leader.
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
I’m sorry, but it’s 2016. Our girls need to know that they can do anything, be anything, and LEAD anything.
Hence the guilt.
I had a professor tell me that he didn’t think I had the mental capabilities to pass his class. I do and I did. I had an interviewer tell me that they weren’t really looking to hire a female. I got up, walked out, and got the job.
I wasn’t always so fearless and gutsy… but I refused to let those experiences become my reality. I pushed forward. I ran headfirst into walls. I didn’t ever believe that I couldn’t.
And I don’t want little girls believing that they can’t anymore.
One of my sweet college advisors pointed out to me that I do a lot to encourage girls in STEM/engineering fields… which was particularly kind of her. But I was still unsettled. I want to do more. I want my own Girl Scout troop. I want to be able to get girls into schools and programs that will keep them on the path for their chosen careers. I want to send them to places where they can become leaders in things that they are passionate about.
I want them to know they CAN and they WILL.
…which leads me to yet another quote from Dean Shaver that didn’t make sense to me until I sat there and really thought about what she was saying.
“Put a women’s college on your list because it’s not about equal opportunity. It’s about EVERY opportunity for young women.” – Deb Shaver, Smith College
You’ll be hard pressed to convince me that there isn’t more truth in that statement than any other statement floating around about equity and access right now.
I say all this to say…. What are YOU going to do to help girls realize the great potential they hold?
Man… looking back… what a great day my college graduation was. The road was H-A-R-D… but I could and I did. Thanks to my second family for all the amazing photos they took on this special day. I’m so lucky to have them. And you.