I remember the very first celebration of the United Nation’s International Women’s Day in 1975. I was 11 but I had three older sisters and that made all the difference. There were t-shirts, buttons and stickers to show that you recognized your power as a woman and you were not embarrassed to show it. Now in 2016, I reflect on some of the things that have changed and how opportunities are opening up for young women coming of age today.
The field of Computer Science is populated with 1% women. This is a missed opportunity. The education of women so they find STEM careers attractive is really only in its infancy. Students in elementary school today can be exposed to many STEM opportunities in a very gender neutral way. No pink or blue computers.
STEM opportunities can be attractive to girls and women if they have not caught the bias (more prevalent in my day) of parents and mentors who felt a woman needed an education AND a husband. “Don’t seem too eager to learn, Sweetie, it will turn off a prospective husband.”
We are still behind when it comes to wages. In Canada, it amounts to $0.72 to every dollar of a man’s salary. It’s getting worse, not better. Pursuing a career with a STEM specialty would do something towards wage equity. This is the theme of #IWD2016: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality.
In many STEM areas, our expectation of being accepted as equal contributors to individual fields is sabotaged to some extent by those who populate the levels above us.
So, here’s the challenge: as teachers and educators, we can encourage every student to reach their potential, through discovery and practice in the STEM subject areas. STEM topics can be taught by making interdisciplinary connections across subject areas and using innovative teaching methods. Exposure to STEM learning gives every student a hands-on, memorable experience in science, technology, engineering and/or math. Who knows what fire you may ignite?