More Mentors Needed for Women in STEM

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    When I asked Karen Purcell, founder of STEMspire, a nonprofit that supports and inspires young women to explore a future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields, about what she’s learned on the topic of how best to provide that support through mentorship, she told me:

    “A mentor may not even realize initially that they are serving as a mentor.  It may come very naturally to help a young colleague or someone interested in the STEM fields.  A mentor is not only someone who is willing to take the time to teach techniques and processes but also someone who takes an interest in long-term advancement. … Teaming with a mentor is a career strategy that can bring huge benefits, especially to women in unbalanced work environments like engineering. The majority of successful women time and time again credit their participation in some sort of mentorship for dramatically helping them reach their career goals.”

    Purcell notes that in-school and out-of-school programs, like camps and workshops for girls exploring STEM, are growing in popularity in the U.S., but not as quickly as elsewhere in the world:

    “One significant reason for our falling behind is that female students are not being encouraged—as they are abroad—to pursue career paths in science, technology, engineering or math. If we want to attract the best and brightest minds into the fields that will move us forward, we can no longer look to only half of the population.”

    Purcell recommended that those with an interest in mentoring young women to pursue careers in STEM, whether they are professionals, educators or parents, consider partnering with national organizations with organized mentorship programs. As March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day, expect to see more information about programs designed to support up-and-coming female professionals and leaders during the next few weeks.

    A few resources for information on mentoring and women in STEM:

    Million Women Mentors is well-connected to the IT world, nonprofits and Washington. It participated in a Congressional celebratory lunch for National Women’s History Month earlier this week and is bringing together the efforts of organizations from to the Girl Scouts.

    As part of a series on women in STEM sponsored by Cisco and others, Cisco Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Tae Yoo, writes at Huffington Post that focusing on providing this type of support in the developing world is crucial for the growth not only of local economies, but the world’s economy:

    “One of the most compelling arguments for encouraging the education of girls, particularly in developing countries, is this: Education enables jobs, jobs are a source of economic growth, and economic growth is a key to development and stability.”

    These young women must be prepared, she writes, for the jobs of the future: STEM jobs.

    STEMConnector is a rich resource for its calendar of events, many of which are centered around bringing young people (female and male) together with STEM professionals, and also for its 100 Women Leaders in STEM list.

    The site revolves around a series of radio interviews with female STEM professionals about their careers and backgrounds. It also has a great list of organized mentoring programs around the country.

    The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy includes a Women in STEM site, which needs a little updating, but provides background facts and figures, including this one: “Women who work in STEM earn on average 33 percent more than their counterparts in other fields.” The White House’s Council on Women and Girls site is updated much more frequently, and though all the information isn’t centered on STEM, the topic is often included in its fact sheets and events.

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