The mission of FIRST® is to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.” In every single weighted phrase of that mission is an underscoring of the many ways, we as FIRST® Ladies can lead the change. And not just can, we SHOULD.
One of the core goals of our Outreach program is to inspire young people – ALL young people - to be leaders in science and technology. And yet, we need to just look around at our programs and see the way the data for girls in STEM skews against the trends. At Elev8, we have had a very strong culture of diversity, inclusiveness and #SheEmpowersSTEM has been an area of strong focus and passion for us. But it doesn’t change the realities created by years of gender stereotyping, encouragement, access and even toys, rewards and praise. By middle school, these nuanced behaviors have not only affected interests, but even performance. A study in Columbia showed that “Preschool girls outperform boys in math skills by 0.17 standard deviations, yet both boys and girls associate STEM with boys.” This parity in performance erodes as conditioning and opportunity plays out and “Girls were represented similarly to boys among top math performers in grade 6 in only 12 of 42 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.” These studies tell the same story around the world.
The reasons we need to force the issue are many. We need to encourage girls to be whatever they want to be, and not what the world teaches them girls should be. In the case of STEM particularly, we also need to encourage innovators, entrepreneurs to create a greater parity in education and wealth. If things continue at this pace, UNICEF believes it will take 99.5 years to achieve gender parity. We are also leaving half the population out of the conversation for the future. In owning it, in creating it, in designing it.
We need to encourage the interest in STEM at different ages for girls. All the way from awareness exercises for primary school girls to introductory workshops in middle school, we need to talk to girls everywhere on how technology and science can fit in with their greatest passions. We need to highlight women who led the way and can be great mentors for girls to look up to and incentivize the budding interest where we see it with competitions, mentorship and inclusivity.
At Elev8, we are using all these tools and are constantly trying to perpetuate the conversation for Girls in STEM.
Lastly, as FIRST® Ladies, we are privileged with an environment of culture, conditioning and encouragement to be part of the great technological revolution – today and for our collective future. As like all good superheroes, we need to acknowledge the unwritten rule – With great power, comes great responsibility. The FIRST® Ladies should own this responsibility and lead the charge to a more equal world.
This blog was written by Kyra R. of FRC team 7539, Elev8. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!
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