While STEM occupations continue to grow, command higher wages and enjoy a lower rate of unemployment than non-STEM careers, there’s a big problem. Since 2000, the number of women in STEM jobs has been stuck at only 24 percent.
Girlstart, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit, is hoping to change that. Since 1997, they’ve been on a mission to empower girls to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
All females are underrepresented in STEM, but Girlstart is especially focused on reaching girls who are economically disadvantaged, at risk of academic failure, or who come from a non-white background. These are the girls who are the least likely to pursue STEM and who may have limited resources at home. Girlstart’s Deputy Director Julie Shannan says, “All girls need and deserve encouragement and enrichment in STEM, especially if we are going to address the gender imbalances in the STEM workforce.”
According to Shannan, girls face many barriers in pursuing STEM education and STEM careers, especially a lack of encouragement. Girlstart hopes to inspire girls by giving them female role models who show them that they can succeed in a STEM job.
Girlstart programs range from summer camps to after-school groups. One of Girlstart’s past programs that worked with high school students, Project IT Girl, saw 89 percent of participants move on to a four-year university, with 80 percent pursuing STEM majors.
With programs like Girlstart to show girls the possibilities that exist in STEM fields, the future looks bright. “We’re also thrilled to see the price of many technologies coming down, and even free programs, like MIT’s Scratch, becoming available,” Shannan said, “which means that cutting-edge experiences like 3D printing and app development are accessible to many more girls than in the past.”