Girls in STEM: How to inspire, instill interest, and increase involvement

Two girls at laptop computer

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, where people from all over celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. 

This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge, a call to action to identify inequality and fight for inclusion worldwide in terms of education, economic opportunities, political status, health, and many other factors.

This means striving for gender equity in everything from boardrooms and government, to wealth, sports coverage, and beyond.

Why does such gender equality, or “gender parity” matter?

Because look at the paragraph immediately above.

Many of us might not even realize an imbalance exists until we put ourselves into the above situations. Look across the boardroom—how many women do you see? Listen to the next big game on TV—how many female voices do you hear?

It matters because the world we experience through work, business, school, and entertainment should reflect the diversity of which this world is composed.

“Boys are better at math.” Well, in research published in the journal Science, it was revealed that parents and teachers consistently believe that boys are better at math. 

According to Janet Hyde, the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who led the study, such thinking “keeps girls and women out of a lot of careers, particularly high-prestige, lucrative careers in science and technology."

While 48 percent of undergraduate college degrees in math are actually now earned by women, girls do still lag far behind in fields like physics and engineering.

Additionally, reports that only 12% of U.S. Computer Science undergraduates are female despite the fact that half the population is female. (See more STEM education stats here.)

What can be done?

At iD Tech, we acknowledge this pervasive gender gap in STEM, and have long been dedicated to creating inclusive learning environments that bring out the best in both girls and boys. Remember, iD Tech was founded by two Silicon Valley women in 1999: mother and daughter duo Kathryn Ingram and Alexa Ingram-Cauchi.

Over 60% of our iD Tech year-round workforce is female. They are technical spec writers, QA testers, product designers, project managers, videographers, web developers, graphic designers, and more. Similarly, over half of our summer camp staff is female. They’re experts in everything from coding for kids and game development, to photography and robotics.

Since our inception, we’ve continually made a point to run awesome camps that are welcoming of both genders. We know that the female perspective is vital, and getting more girls in STEM is beyond important. Our goal is to help balance the scales by inspiring girls to dream BIG.

We also created an all-girls technology camp, Alexa Café, where we teach tech with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, leadership, and social impact. It has since become the nation's leading (and largest) summer tech camp just for girls, and due to its success in past seasons, we have expanded the program to over 15 campuses across the country.

Such success is largely due to our stellar summer staff members who are so much more than instructors—they're inspirational mentors, motivators, and friends to girls across the nation.

It's from them we take cues on how to inspire, motivate, and encourage more girls to get into STEM.

All in all, we’ve embarked on quite the challenge; a challenge that requires every single organization to actively strive for change.

So, start by asking yourself, what would it mean to have women, especially women of color, equally represented in the tech industry? In government? As world leaders? What would be different?

What the results could look like...

The importance of empowerment programs for girls can't be overstated, and the benefits of getting more girls into STEM can’t be contained in a single blog post—but think about increased diversity in your pools of engineers, developers, and scientists.

Then, think about the impact this new landscape could have in creating a wider-reaching lineup of products, services, and solutions that reflect the needs of the world’s entire population, and not just half of it.

And then, finally, think about the creation of role-models and the cycle we would be setting into motion: more women in the workforce doing cool and important things in STEM means that younger girls now have more, and more relatable, professionals to look up to, and to strive to be.

New perspectives, ideas, and voices—the cycle goes on and on until we have reached true parity.

So how do we get there?

How do you inspire girls to get into STEM?

We have covered this question a lot, and many of the answers overlap with how we address getting any child interested in STEM. STEM toys, the alignment of STEM with existing interests, enrollment in summer opportunities, etc. All good answers!

But, I’d like to go a level deeper, and look at how to inspire more girls to get into STEM by illustrating the answers through the context of what goes on at our Alexa Cafe programs.

  • Shatter stereotypes and instill confidence
  • Surround girls with others who have STEM experience
  • Cultivate an environment for creativity 
  • Unlock the power of collaboration
  • Combine tech with passion projects
  • Introduce girls to role models
  • Encourage girls to follow their dreams
  • Keep the momentum going

While the return of our Alexa Cafe programs has yet to be determined for 2021, the amazing young women who’ve attended them remain a source of inspiration and purpose for us. They are our “why”, and we’re determined to develop programs that provide an outlet for their brilliance.

With that, let’s jump in:

1. Shatter stereotypes and instill self-confidence

The days of associating all things techie with boys are long gone (for instance, yes, girls play video games).

Alexa Café instructors personify the traits (confidence, boldness, thoughtfulness) and possess the skills (technical knowledge, teamwork, leadership, entrepreneurship) your daughter will need to succeed in fields like software engineering, video game design, filmmaking, and more. Our instructors show girls what it entails to be a strong, successful woman in tech in 2019.

For more stereotype-shattering inspiration, here are some quotes about girl power from powerful, game-changing women: 

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” Oprah Winfrey

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott

There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” – Michelle Obama

"What I've learned from myself is that I don't have to be anybody else. Myself is good enough." - Lupita Nyong'o

"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud." - Coco Chanel

"When a door closes, you have two choices: give up or keep going. Let them shut you down, or prove them wrong. We all start somewhere; it's where you end up that counts." - Rihanna

"If you don't see a clear path for what you want, sometimes you have to make it yourself." - Mindy Kaling

"Don't allow people to dim your shine because they are blinded. Tell them to put on some sunglasses." - Lady Gaga

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

2. Surround girls with those who have industry experience

Many Alexa Café instructors are STEM majors or graduates who work in fields like computer science, graphic design, game development, and more. They know what it's like to pursue a technical degree and can share insider tips and other information about majors and careers of interest.

3. Cultivate an environment for creativity

From the fresh, inviting decor to the unique, fun, and tech-savvy staff, Alexa Café provides an experience that's unlike anything else.

Whether your daughter is taking a course in coding, game design, or 3D printing, our instructors will emphasize the importance of aesthetics and how they can be used to enhance the awesome technical and/or philanthropic aspects of a project. They know that projects should function perfectly and look stunning!

4. Unlock the power of collaboration

Teamwork can take a project to a whole new level! Alexa Café staffers are experts when it comes to helping girls communicate their ideas and collaborate in small clusters. When girls learn to rely on one another for troubleshooting, problem-solving, and extra inspiration, there's no end to what they can achieve.

5. Combine tech with passion projects

One of the main things that sets Alexa Café apart from other tech programs is the emphasis on philanthropy and "1-for-1" social movements. Instructors encourage girls to dig deep as they brainstorm project ideas in order to determine how they can use technology to make a positive impact in their local communities and beyond.

We've found that combining tech with important causes resonates with many girls, allowing them to see the broader impacts of their efforts while holding their interest.

6. Introduce them to female entrepreneurs and role-models

At numerous Alexa Café locations, staff members reach out to local female tech industry professionals and entrepreneurs and have them come speak at camp.

A few summers ago, Pree Walia and Casey Schulz, co-founders and heads of startup Preemadonna, visited Alexa Cafe held at Palo Alto High School. The girls LOVED learning about what it takes to start a company from the ground up!

7. Keep the momentum going

If your daughter attended camp last summer and is returning this year, don't be surprised if she sees some friendly, familiar faces. Often times, Alexa Café instructors return summer after summer to help returning students further develop their talents and dive deeper into the exciting world of tech. We hire staff members who are incredibly motivated to serve as mentors and help girls reach their full potential, and our retention rate is high.

8. Encourage girls to follow their dreams, and give them the tools to do so.

Alexa Café staffers work with us because they're passionate about STEM, possess awesome technical ability, and genuinely love empowering the younger generation of girls to dream and achieve BIG.

With the right combination of tech skills, style, humor, social awareness, inspiration, and friendship, our instructors show girls that anything is possible and that any college and career aspirations are within reach.

Now, all we need is to take action.

While girls attend and enjoy all of our summer programs, Alexa Café provides a unique, all-girls setting that can make a profound impact in terms of technical ability and self-confidence.

We encourage your girls to join us and learn about technology through the lens of social impact, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Learn more about Alexa Café or view all of our virtual camps and programs!

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!