Long underrepresented in science and engineering, women are badly in need of a girl power-up. There simply aren’t enough of them to fill voracious demand for technical jobs in the market today. By 2020, there will be 1.5 million too few U.S. college grads to fill the rising number of highly skilled jobs.
Women could make up a good chunk of that shortfall, but only if more of them enter the pipeline. As of 2009, women earned just 31% of degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), and women scientists and engineers only comprised 35% and 15% of the total, respectively.
With people in short supply and technical skills in such high demand, it’s a really good time to start thinking about how women could be changing the tech and science world as we know it. Here are several projects whose leaders have been doing just that.
The Stanford collective She++, founded in 2012 by Stanford students Ellora Israni and Anya Agarwal, aims to encourage young women to enroll in their first computer science class. She++ holds annual conferences and recently produced a 12-minute documentary examining gender in science and engineering through the lens of women students and professionals in the field.
The self-titled film focuses on some familiar problems—gender stereotypes, lack of female mentors, and the vicious cycle perpetuated by the scarcity of girl-geek peers. The film notes that since women comprise 60% of university undergraduates, proportional representation in computer science would double the number of comp-sci majors. But its most striking contribution comes in interviews with female technologists of all stripes. Their candor and passion for their career is inspirational; it made me want to read a little more closely into that list of classes in the engineering department.
As Jocelyn Goldfein, Facebook’s engineering director, says in the documentary, “I think this is actually really a Rosie the Riveter moment, and that is that women are the great untapped bench”.
WISH, or Women in STEM High School Aerospace Scholars, is a NASA summer immersion program for high-school girls focused on space exploration. Last year, 84 students worked alongside female NASA engineers, mentors and interns to plan a simulated mission to Mars, during which they learned to live within a fictitious budget and built several small mockups of space and landing vehicles.
The summer program aims to cultivate passion for engineering and science in the context of astronomy, allowing young women to complete hands-on work in teams, present in a conference environment, and learn under the facilitation of female mentors.
The Girl Scouts of Northern California has teamed up with science and tech non-profit Techbridge to create Tech Choices, a curriculum designed for girls in grades K-8 in low-income Bay Area communities. Participants take on projects in engineering, electronics, circuitry, and robotics, travel to science museums, tech companies, universities, and meet with women in the science and engineering field.
In 2011, Google.org donated $100,000 to the Girl Scouts of Northern California in support of Tech Choices, helping bring the course to 18 schools and 640 girls.