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SXSW panel: Empowering girls one STEM workshop at a time

SXSW panel: Empowering girls one STEM workshop at a time

SXSW panel: Empowering girls one STEM workshop at a time
March 18
17:20 2018

When thinking about common jobs women hold, careers falling under STEM aren’t usually the ones that come to mind.

For decades, men have dominated science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM fields. According to a report by the United States Department of Commerce, women held 47 percent of all jobs in the U.S. in 2015, but only 24 percent of those jobs were in STEM fields. A panel event called “Empowering Girls with Tech: Breaking Barriers” on March 12 at this year’s South by Southwest aimed to bring this issue into the spotlight, discussing ways educators and parents can support girls who show interest in STEM.

The panel comprised of Webjunto’s Liz Brown, The Meet Group’s Catherine Connelly, Dovtail’s Benjamin Mathew and Roar For Good’s Yasmine Mustafa.

Connelly said in order to start closing the gender cap in STEM careers, parents and educators need to start young when girls are still in their early developmental phase of childhood.

“At around 5 or 6 [years old], gender confidence starts to fall off,” Connelly said. “We need to get in there early to prevent these thoughts about self-doubt from manifesting. We need to create a judgement-free learning environment. …[Girls] need a safe space to explore [STEM] options.”

In order to combat the present gender gap in these fields, many programs, such as Girls Who Code, Girls in Tech and Girlstart, have sprouted up in the hopes to encourage and empower girls to like STEM, and to help them move past gender biases. Panelists stressed not only the importance of these types of programs, but also the impact peers and words have on children as they are developing.

Mathew — founder of the Young Entrepreneurs Club of New Jersey and a sophomore at Montgomery High School — said he notices the difference in confidence and ability among boys and girls in his advanced placement science and math classes.

“After we get done taking a test in class, all the girls will go talk about how they did, and the boys will group up and do the same,” Mathew said. “The difference is when we start talking about answers. If a girl got an answer different than her friend, she’ll say to her friend, ‘You’re probably right, I got it wrong,’ whereas the guys will fight each other because we all think we’re right.”

Connelly recalls an instance in which she felt she did not belong with her male counterparts during a tech competition while she was in school.

“I remember placing top five in a competition and being awarded with men’s cologne and a men’s watch,” Connelly said. “There weren’t any prize options for girls.”

Some of the main messages panelists continued to reiterate to audience members throughout the session was that girls are equally capable as males, and having gender diversity in STEM fields will help bring diversity in approaches to solve the problems of today and the future.

“There’s equal access, but not equal comfortability,” Brown said.

Brown and Connelly both said getting girls involved in STEM is a “wicked problem,” which Brown defined as being a problem with no one singular, independent solution because it involves many levels of obstacles.

“We really have to get the whole village on board with solving these problems,” Brown said. “One thing is not enough.”

Feature Image: A panel comprised of four individuals with experience in STEM careers discussed the importance of inclusivity for girls and women in STEM at a South by Southwest event on Monday, March 12. Photo by Kaitlin Pennell

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Kaitlin Pennell

Kaitlin Pennell

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