Consider these statistics:
Women receive more than 60 percent of all undergraduate college degrees, but only 11 percent of computer science degrees.
Women make up 48 percent of the US workforce but only 24 percent of workers in so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers.
Too many girls are missing out on what some are calling "the new liberal arts degree," a STEM-intensive education that will yield a high-quality future job. Now a new effort is helping girls and women from middle-school through their early working lives take advantage of the need for trained workers in STEM fields.
Million Women Mentors (MWM), launched Jan. 8, aims to reach out to at least a million girls and young women in the next four years and support them in pursuing STEM careers and education.
A great concern has arisen about the educational opportunities in STEM for girls, "and this really starts at the middle school and grade school level," says Julie Kantor, chief partnership officer for STEMconnector, a consortium of companies, nonprofit associations, government officials, and academic institutions promoting STEM education and careers. Million Women Mentors is an initiative of STEMconnector.
As girls enter middle school, they are both pushed and pulled away from their natural interest in subjects such as chemistry, physics, math, and computer science. They often find few other women in these classes and may not feel as though they fit in. Meanwhile, they are attracted to non-STEM classes that include many other girls.
"That's when 'I hate math, I hate science' starts for girls," Ms. Kantor says. In addition, girls often don't know what career options are available in STEM fields, and they don't see any role models.
That's where MWM is stepping in.
"It's a call to action to corporate America," Kantor says in a phone interview.
MWM was launched with 42 national partner organizations who already serve more than 18 million girls and young women, including the American Association of University Women, Girls Inc., and Girl Scouts of the USA.
At the Million Women Mentors website, more than 44,000 pledges to be a mentor have already been received. The mentoring can take many forms, including online, face to face, internships, apprenticeships, and sponsorships of career opportunities.
Corporate sponsors of MWM include companies such as Cisco, Walmart, General Motors, and ADP. STEM skills are needed in a wide variety of businesses, Kantor notes, not just those thought of as technology companies. While filling these important roles women with STEM skills also help themselves: Women in STEM careers on average earn 92 cents for every dollar earned by men in STEM careers; women in all careers earn just 77 cents compared to every dollar earned by men.
Though women role models in STEM fields are important, male mentors are a key. Men occupy the majority of jobs in STEM careers, including most leadership positions. They can have a powerful impact in helping girls and women succeed.
"Most amazing STEM women had a male sponsor," Kantor points out.
MWM wants to get the message out that "these are fun, awesome careers," she adds.
• For more information visit www.millionwomenmentors.org.