Why We Need More Women in STEM and How AI Could Help Us Get There
Though specialized STEM programs for girls are a step in the right direction, we need to make a leap. Here are four actionable ideas.
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Recently, Dr. France A. Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, gave a presentation at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness meeting in Washington, D.C. She holds an extraordinary record of accomplishment and has made a tremendous impact on academia and the U.S.'s scientific community. Córdova is also the youngest person — and first woman — to serve as Chief Scientist at NASA. Her journey began with her love for STEM.
In some ways, the future of work is largely linked to STEM. Yet in this day and age, despite role models like Córdova, women continue to remain significantly underrepresented across the board in this industry. What's more, the inevitable reality of an AI-integrated workforce is coming.
According to recent research, women make up just 26 percent of those who hold computer- and math-related jobs. Moreover, data from UNESCO indicates that only 35 percent of women go into STEM, of which a mere 3 percent decided to pursue fields like IT. And when it comes to computer science degrees in the U.S., only 18 percent of them are earned by female college graduates.
Interestingly, in Eastern Europe, more women tend to pursue STEM. About 74 percent of women occupy medical professions in countries like Estonia and Latvia. In Bulgaria, 27 percent of IT workers are women –– a nine-fold lead over the U.S. And Eastern European countries boast the highest proportion of women who work in high-tech companies.
These results are partly a product of socialist-era policies that encouraged females to pursue the maths and sciences in the name of the State's advancement. American can learn from the policy initiative of driving the populace to pursue STEM via large-scale campaigns for societal betterment.
Though Eastern Europe trumps America when it comes to women in STEM, many females who do choose to explore the industry report experiencing gender discrimination. Results from a survey of 1,000 college-aged women conducted by Girls Who Code suggested that "half [of the women] had either had a negative experience applying for a job in tech or know a woman who has." Furthermore, of the survey respondents that reported a negative encounter, 25 percent said their interviewers focused on "their personal attributes rather than their skills" and 21 percent of women said they "encountered biased questions."
In light of this pressing issue, female-centric STEM initiatives has appeared across the US. Among the best known national programs include the previously mentioned Girls Who Code organization, as well as Kode With Klossy, run by former supermodel Karlie Kloss. And though specialized STEM programs for girls are a step in the right direction, we need to make a leap. Current efforts aren't nearly comprehensive enough to adequately prepare women for an AI-augmented reality and work towards solving the problem of discrimination and the gender gap.
We can take advantage of the inescapable marriage of technology and biology to craft a novel multi-part solution for helping solve the discrimination and STEM gender gap:
- STEM awareness campaigns: Evangelize STEM in the workforce of tomorrow.
- Special science and technology tracks for girls: Create a separate, more advanced science and technology curriculum for girls during early education due to biological developments in maturity.
- AI in interviewing: Implementing carefully vetted AI in hiring procedures to potentially help eliminate gender-bias discrimination.
- Realizing a skills-based future: Create an understanding that the future economy will likely be skills-based rather than degree-based.
Nationwide STEM awareness campaigns and action-oriented programs
"Women make up just under half (47 percent) of the workforce, but they are 58 percent of workers at the highest risk of automation," states a recent report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Therefore, the digital workforce revolution could drive some women to encounter high levels of job insecurity.
But just how much of a threat does automation pose? According to the U.S. Census, between 2006 and 2010, 96 percent of secretarial and administrative positions were occupied by women. Females also reportedly hold 77 percent of teaching positions and 78 percent of central-office administrator roles.
Learning from eastern Europe, America can introduce "STEM awareness campaigns," large-scale private-public initiatives through which the government, academic and private institutions work in tandem to educate the public about STEM. One example of a current STEM awareness initiative is STEMFuture, an international non-profit organization that provides education and workshops for adolescents to encourage careers in technology, math and science.
STEM awareness campaigns have the potential to significantly lessen the strain of automation on women and deliver a new set of opportunities and benefits to the female workforce of tomorrow.
Launching advanced separate technology coursework geared for girls
Scientific research suggests the female brain matures faster than the male brain and possesses unique structural attributes. For example, girls tend to have stronger neural networks in the temporal lobe, leading to better memorization and listening abilities. In addition, the corpus callosum (a weave of fibers that conjoin the left and right hemispheres of the brain), can be up to 25 percent larger in developing female adolescents than in their male counterparts.
Currently, schools teach boys and girls at an equivalent pace, neglecting their separate biological needs. If educators take advantage of development differences, special STEM curriculums could be crafted for girls at an early age. This could help bring STEM to girls across classrooms in the U.S. and encourage them to explore the field more deeply.
AI-augmented HR interviewers
Using AI to improve the HR hiring process isn't news. Many companies use AI recruitment software that aims to make hiring more efficient or cut down on bias. This innovation suggests that AI will remain central to the future workplace environment.
According to a Pew Research report, "about four in ten working women (42 percent) in the United States say they have faced discrimination on the job because of their gender." Moreover, another another study by Pew suggests that 50 percent of women in STEM jobs have experienced gender discrimination. Carefully-vetted AI could help decrease gender bias discrimination in STEM by exclusively assessing candidates based on skills.
Realizing a skills-based future in the workforce
A digital society is a dynamic one. In the future, new technologies will regularly enter the marketplace, continuing to make lifelong learning necessary. A skills-based economy means that degrees and hierarchies will no longer be as relevant. When abilities are prioritized above factors like gender, more women could feel empowered to enter the STEM industry, knowing they'd be less likely to be assessed on the basis of gender.