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To Make STEM Less of a Boy’s Club, Encourage Young Girls and Women


Kathy Wengel

Worldwide Vice President, Johnson & Johnson

As early as first grade, most children associate STEM with boys. A study showed when boys and girls are asked to draw a scientist, most portray a white male in a lab coat. Any woman scientist they draw usually looks unhappy and mean. How do we change this? Due to unconscious bias, stereotypes and lack of visible role models, females drop out of STEM in high school and college, and even those who earn STEM degrees leave STEM more often than male colleagues. 

We all have a role to play in helping females of all ages stay on the STEM track by providing exposure to a wide variety of STEM careers, female STEM role models and mentors who encourage them to follow their passion — not listen to the noise of the old norms.  

Make it available

To help spark interest among young girls, supplement their curriculum with creative problem-solving and play. Courses, out-of-school programs and community events should all include STEM activities that are both enjoyable and educational.

For many girls who start out strong in math and science, interest wanes along the way. Talented girls will oftentimes pursue work in fields where they will receive more positive reinforcement. We need to put an end to the “leaky pipeline.” Through university programs and partnerships, we can help increase the number of women enrolling in STEM programs and graduating with STEM degrees. 

Diversity benefits all

Once women reach the professional workforce, employers can make a big impact in helping build inspiring STEM career paths for the long-term. Employers need to do a better job at implementing best practices for attracting and retaining female STEM talent. Building a diverse STEM community within corporations not only builds competitive advantage, but also a broader talent pipeline, which ensures innovation for today and the future. 

STEM careers are critical to our increasingly tech-enabled society. Hundreds of thousands of STEM jobs remain unfilled today. Standing by while half the population steps to the sidelines is no longer an option. Female STEM professionals play key roles as innovators, disruptors and problem-solvers. To ignite their technical passion, we have to champion, celebrate and partner with girls and women so they are inspired to pursue STEM and help change the world.

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