Anoushhka Banerjee, a 10-year-old 5th grader from Santa Clara, CA, is proving that an interest in STEM can start at any age, and that there's no limit to what you can achieve if you stand by your interests.

What is the most fun thing about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to you?

Solving real world problems. Even if it's prototyping and playing along the way.

Do you want to be involved in STEM fields when you grow up? What would be your dream job?

At this moment, I am still not decided. I am learning and developing my interests. But I love to create new things, even if it's arts and crafts or fixing things at home with easily available materials. 

What is the coolest thing you have built with STEM toys like littleBits?

This is my best project for my best friend: littleBits

The U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration reported that women are 50 percent of the workforce, but only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. Moreover, 50 percent of women in STEM drop out in the first 10 years. With STEM being an economic equalizer and at the core of our global competitiveness and innovation, why are we leaving half of the population behind?

Value of mentoring

Mentoring is a key component of getting more girls and women engaged with STEM and bridging the gap between recruitment and retention. It is important to leverage the strength of cross-sector collaboration between corporations, non-profit and government entities and to equip large numbers of STEM professionals with tools to become effective mentors.

When STEM mentoring happens from K-J (kindergarten to jobs), everyone benefits. Mentors educate girls about the possibilities of what a STEM career can be, the types of coursework that is required for a STEM career and how STEM can change the world. While providing valuable career advice, mentors encourage women to persist in spite of academic or workplace challenges.

STEM mentors are important from the educational process all the way through to careers. They change lives while also having a positive impact on companies. Furthermore, with the talent pool scarce and the demand for STEM talent at an all-time high, companies are finding that employees who participated in a mentoring program had a retention rate 20 percent higher than those who did not mentor.

Everyone wins

Cross-sector collaboration allows us to learn from each other and build a collective vision. We must educate girls and women about the opportunity that STEM careers represent while also promoting work cultures that encourage women to opt-in as opposed to opt-out of STEM.

Male champions of change are just as important as women to this effort. It’s everyone’s responsibility to recruit, develop and retain more girls and women in STEM. We must all encourage curiosity and innovation, while also teaching both girls and boys that women can be successful STEM professionals in their own right. Parents, teachers and others need to recognize that unconscious bias and gender roles reinforce negative stereotypes. Many professionals (i.e. Human Resources) may not have a STEM background but can lend their advice because they have an understanding of the types of skills that are required to be successful in the STEM workplace.

Let’s mobilize and use our collective voice to inspire the current and next generation of female STEM professionals.