With STEM Education, Women Can Create Both Technology and Their Own Futures

The decline of young women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the U.S. is alarming for many reasons, but it’s especially resonant for someone like me, whose cultural heritage is Indian. (Watch this short video, where I discuss these topics in person).

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After India gained independence in 1947, it looked to the U.S. for some of its educational models. India built technology institutes based on MIT and CalTech, and engineering and scientific education was strongly emphasized for both girls and boys. At the time, the U.S. represented a high standard in technical and scientific education for both young boys and girls. As a child, I was encouraged to pursue a STEM-based education, which is how I found my way to Intel.

The landscape has changed greatly for the U.S. in STEM education. In 2015, Intel President Renée James addressed a meeting at Portland’s St. Mary’s Academy where she highlighted some sobering statistics. When Renée first started working at Intel in 1987, the percentage of women pursuing computer science degrees in U.S. universities was 37 percent. By 2010, it had dropped more than half, to just 14 percent. Now, women make up 57 percent of the U.S. undergraduate population, though they represent only 19 percent of U.S. graduates in engineering. By contrast, in China—where STEM is emphasized from an early age—women today make up 40 percent of the engineering workforce.

The decline of young women’s involvement in STEM education in the U.S. is troubling on many levels. According to Wired, by 2018, the U.S. STEM workforce will be 8.6 million jobs. It’s the fastest growing sector in the U.S. and yet there is a deficit in individuals, particularly women, pursuing these fields. Jobs in technology, engineering, science and related fields are typically intellectually satisfying and well paying, providing women with a path to prosperity and security for themselves and their families.

The relative scarcity of women in technical and engineering fields also skews the diversity of workplaces, which in turn impacts innovation and can impact business value. According to a study by Forbes, workplace diversity is a key driver of innovation, especially in global workforces and economies. Many organizations recognize that a broad set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds are crucial for the development of new ideas. A diverse and inclusive workforce is also important for companies that want to attract and retain top talent. According to a University of Maryland and Columbia Business School joint study, gender diversity at the management level leads to a $42 million increase in value for S&P firms.

Empowering Girls and Women

I’m proud to be part of an organization like Intel, which is committed to expanding educational opportunities for girls and women and inspires them to become creators of technology. Intel has many globally expansive programs and initiatives to support educational access for girls and women in STEM fields.

  • Girl Rising, a film and global social action campaign for girls’ education, has cumulatively reached over 200 million people, with more than 10,000 film screenings, five billion social media impressions, and 500 published articles. As part of the campaign, Intel employees have participated in more than 100 volunteer and screening events in over 30 countries.
  • Intel has worked with UNESCO to develop a new gender policy brief and toolkit to guide policymakers around the world toward gender equality in education and technology access.
  • Girls Who Code and the National Center for Women and Information Technology Aspire IT are two examples of programs and organizations Intel supports that help to increase women’s participation in computing and technology. Intel and the Intel Foundation also support other programs designed to inspire and engage girls in technology and engineering fields such as the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search, both of which attract a high level of participation by girls.
  • The Intel® She Will Connect program, benefiting five million women in Sub-Saharan Africa, combines digital literacy training, online peer networks and content to help young women acquire or improve digital literacy and connect to new opportunities for economic prosperity and personal growth.

For Girls and Women, the Time is Now

Despite statistics about declining participation in STEM education, today is a great time for women of all ages, in all countries, to explore opportunities in technology and engineering fields. A great deal of passion and energy is devoted to opening the door to women in technical fields, and if this is where their passions lie, girls and women can seize the opportunity to improve their quality of life and advance their families and communities.

With an abundance of programs and incentives in place, girls and women have the wind at their backs as they strive to become not just creators of technology, but of their own lives and futures.

Please follow @PrabhaGana for ongoing conversations about women in technology and #STEMinism.