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How Industry Leaders Are Engaging More Girls in STEM

Alexa Cafe on Engaging Girls in STEM

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a day where people from all over the world celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s theme is gender parity, aka gender equality, in terms of education, economic opportunities, political status, health, and other factors.

Engaging girls (and women) in technology has always been an important part of our company’s work—remember, iD Tech was founded by two Silicon Valley women in 1999: mother and daughter duo Kathryn Ingram and Alexa Ingram-Cauchi. Since our inception, we’ve continually made it a point to run awesome camps that are welcoming of both genders. We also created an all-girls technology camp, Alexa Café, where we teach tech with an emphasis on philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Due to its success in past seasons, we have expanded Alexa Café to 14 campuses across the country.

Why Does Gender Parity Matter?

We talk about closing the gender gap in STEM fields pretty frequently, but we still get many questions about why it matters that these fields (and any fields, really) reflect the diversity of our world. What would change if women and minorities were equally represented in all jobs and positions? What would be different?

At iD Tech, we believe that we are most innovative and inspired when our workforce is comprised of a diverse mix of genders, races, ideologies, and passions. But don’t just take it from us.

We asked some industry leaders about the lack of gender parity in STEM, specifically technology, and how they and their companies are working hard to right these inequalities and work toward a brighter future where both women and men are equally heard and hired. Not only do their responses illuminate why it’s so important to close the gender gap, but they also offer suggestions for how each and every one of us can make a difference starting today.

Gender Gap in STEM Fields

Our Awesome Panel of Industry Leaders

Some of the most important technology education and software companies in the country shared their perspectives on how to involve more girls in STEM, both as children and later in life as mentors or members of the workforce. Here are the people we had the privilege of speaking with:

1. People have offered up a number of reasons why girls aren’t pursuing STEM fields at the same rate as their male counterparts, be it the “leaky pipeline,” harmful stereotypes, institutionalized sexism, or a lack of access to the right curriculum. Where do you see the most opportunity for positive change?

“STEM needs to be added to early education so that it’s not an opt-in system, but is instead integrated with the other subjects that students are already learning. Our current system makes it so that kids who want to learn about technology, engineering, and computer science must seek it out extracurricularly. Because girls learn that STEM is for boys, they never even get exposed to STEM, which would allow them to figure out if it’s something they’re interested in.Girls in STEM and Philanthropy

When STEM is integrated into the curriculum, it needs to be introduced in a way that feels relevant. Math can be integrated with art, science can be integrated with the humanities, and engineering is fundamentally about finding creative solutions.”
—Krishna Vedati, CEO, Tynker

“The tools becoming available for interface design, virtual reality, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, 3D modeling, and all manner of foundational platforms (including programming languages) offer the promise of inspiring kids in a way that was never possible before.” —Bill Ritchie, President, ThinkFun

“Too often, young people are introduced to STEM through activities that are disconnected from their lives and interests. We need to provide young people with opportunities to work on personally meaningful projects. This is true for all young people of all backgrounds, cultures, and genders.” —Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research, MIT Media Lab

“Our ability to build collaborative environments that encourage knowledge-sharing, creative thought processes, and innovative ways of approaching problems, solutions, and the like.”
—Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, Co-Founder, iD Tech

“The opportunity exists to improve access to compelling tools and learning materials to increase the number of women attracted to pursuing STEM fields at a university level and beyond. Further, with many companies taking a closer look at their diversity staffing, employing more women in these areas, and encouraging them to become mentors to younger girls in their communities, we can foster the next generation of innovators.” —Randy Swearer, Vice President of Education, Autodesk

2. What do you perceive to be the short- and long-term benefits we’ll see once more women are participating in STEM fields?

“In the short term, the pool of engineers, developers, and scientists will become more diverse, in terms of gender, but also, hopefully, in terms of race, thinking, backgrounds, and teaching. We need diversity in STEM so that the technological products, services, and solutions we’re designing reflect the needs of the world’s population, and not only the needs of a few. It’s also self-perpetuating—more women in STEM fields will lead to more girls pursuing STEM, as they see strong female role models in these fields.”
—Kay Moffett, Director of Education, littleBits

“As more women enter STEM careers, more girls will see STEM as an area where they belong.

Long-term Benefits of Girls In STEMIt’s clear that we haven’t reached the full potential of technology with only half of our population having full access to these fields. In medicine, you’ll see a greater emphasis on women’s health, whereas medical research is currently currently skewed toward men’s issues. In computer science, different types of tech companies will be created and more jobs will be filled because women will be able to occupy roles in the expanding tech sector.

We’d love to eventually see more female Nobel Prize winners; from 1901 to 2015, there were 825 men and only 48 women who won Nobel Prizes.”
—Krishna Vedati, CEO, Tynker

“In the long term, our children can stop fretting about the perceived glass ceiling because there won’t be one. Instead, they can start solving the big issues that face this generation with an equal and valued seat at each and every table.”
—Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, Co-Founder, iD Tech

“A key short- and long-term benefit of increasing the number of women in STEM fields is the addition of new voices, perspectives, and ideas.”
—Lindsay Diamond, PhD, Director of Education, SparkFun Electronics

“Beyond encouraging more women to participate in these fields to help expand the candidate pool, STEM fields will also benefit from the skills that women often bring to the workplace. In addition to technical or “hard” skills, women often excel in “soft” skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication. Whether providing feedback or negotiating a project, good communicators are more prone to be seen as team players and set boundaries in productive ways. Increasing the number of women in STEM fields would expand the number of available workers, educators, and innovators while bringing a new dimension to the workplace.”
—Randy Swearer, Vice President of Education, Autodesk

3. How is your company working to involve more girls in STEM, both now and in the future?

“Engaging girls in technology has always been a priority for iD Tech. Although we make a deliberate effort to create camps that are welcoming for both boys and girls, Alexa Café lets us reach girls in a unique way.

A stylish setting. Inspiring mentors. Girls collaborating on beanbags and chatting about philanthropy and entrepreneurship at café tables. It’s inspiring. We teach girls the foundational skills that will help them thrive in any career, STEM or otherwise. But what’s truly motivating is seeing their self-confidence grow and their interest in technology blossom. We aren’t just teaching technology, we’re showing them how technology can be a part of the interests and passions they already have. And it’s changing lives.”
—Pete Ingram-Cauchi, CEO, iD Tech

“We try to stay gender neutral when developing our STEM games here at ThinkFun. As game manufacturers, we believe that we have an obligation to design toys and games that are clever and creative and that help to playfully develop kids’ minds. With our new Circuit Maze game, for example, players naturally learn about electrical circuits while constructing mazes.  We don’t presume that we know “what girls want” in a product, rather we try to make each of our games be the best that it can be and make it fun enough to inspire girls and boys alike.” —Bill Ritchie, President, ThinkFunGirls-Only Programs Krishna Vedati

“We at Tynker make sure our products have universal appeal to girls as well as boys. We focus on having a lot of gender neutral characters—like dragons and cute trolls—and we make sure to get feedback from both girls and boys to see whether they enjoy our products.

Tynker works with Girls Innovate Club, Girl Scouts, Citi Year, Computer Mentors, and more, because it’s important to us to meet girls in activities they’re already doing…We also work with brands like Monster High and Barbie that have a wide audience of young girls. These brands allow us to take girls from playing into learning and creating.” —Krishna Vedati, CEO, Tynker

“We at iD Tech are breaking the mold that helped perpetuate this lack of interest in STEM-related topics by providing new and innovative way for girls to learn, explore, and master STEM in a non-competitive environment: Alexa Cafe. Change is slow, but we’re committed to making a difference one child—one girl—at a time.”
—Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, Co-Founder, iD Tech

“As we developed our Scratch programming language, we thought explicitly about what types of coding activities would be most likely to engage girls and young women. It’s been exciting to see girls and young women from all over the world developing creative stories, games, and animations with Scratch.” —Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research, MIT Media Lab

“We expend a great deal of care in designing products, projects, and activities that extend beyond the stereotypical, often male-oriented themes in science and technology. Our focus is to ensure that STEM is inclusive and accessible. The exploration of etextiles with young women continues to show that the downstream applications of sewable circuits is appealing and offers a unique entry point to engineering and programming.” —Lindsay Diamond, PhD, Director of Education, SparkFun Electronics

Learn more about Alexa Café etextile courses featuring LilyPad Arduino >

“littleBits is a gender-neutral platform that is designed to unleash creativity and instill a love of STEAM through the cycle of inventing. We get girls to fall in love with STEM by showing them how it fits in with hobbies they are already in love with, whether robotics or arts and crafts or fashion or social activities. We try to show inventions and lessons in all sorts of contexts so that we can meet girls where they are, and we introduce new concepts via hands-on, project-based challenges. As a result we see girls thinking about the applications of STEM by solving real-world problems with littleBits.”
—Kay Moffett, Director of Education, littleBits

“With an emphasis on access and exposure to next-generation design and engineering tools, Autodesk is committed to encouraging younger generations to enter STEM disciplines. Platforms like Design Academy highlight female engineers, makers, and educators through blog posts and videos, showcasing tangible examples of potential career paths in STEM fields. Additionally, all Autodesk employees are encouraged to participate in mentorship programs with students and peers to offer perspective on STEM careers, including visiting elementary school classrooms or keynoting at women in tech events.

Autodesk also participates in the U.S. state department’s TechWomen program, an initiative that brings 98 emerging leaders in STEM fields from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East to the SF Bay Area for mentoring at tech companies. Beyond regular engagement with the participants, in 2015 we hosted several at Autodesk.” —Randy Swearer, Vice President of Education, Autodesk

4. Tell us one or two things that any person can do to help girls get involved and interested in STEM.

“Getting girls excited and involved in STEM starts when they’re young. With Roominate, we’re trying to reach girls as early as possible and expose them to the fun and creativity in STEM through play. It’s important to expose girls to all kinds of subjects at an early age to show them that their future is limitless and it’s really up to them in what they want to aspire to do.Bettina Chen Industry Leaders Girls in STEM

It’s equally important to continue reaching them throughout their educational career. The gender gap isn’t going to change overnight, so it’s crucial to encourage the current generation to not be afraid to pursue what they love, whether it be STEM or a different career. They’re going to face a lot of obstacles along the way, so having that support and encouragement goes a long way.”
—Bettina Chen, Co-Founder, Roominate

“Find ways to connect girls’ interests with STEM. Don’t invalidate girls’ creative or humanities-focused interests, but instead integrate them with STEM by emphasizing the creativity involved with technology. 21st-century engineering is not what many people imagine when the think about STEM. It is tightly interwoven with creativity. You can also expose girls to the diversity of what STEM is, including design, animation, and more. Or help girls find buddies with similar interests so that they don’t feel like the odd child out when they engage in STEM fields.” —Krishna Vedati, CEO, Tynker

“Not supporting sexist stereotypes and encouraging youth to follow their dreams, whether or not it’s STEM. Just uplifting girls to pursue their happiness and goals from an early age by telling them they have the power.” —Erika Hanson, Public Relations Assistant Managers, Dremel

“Encourage young women in your family and community to pursue their curiosities and interests. A strong support framework is key to improving opportunities for young women to get involved in STEM. Women in STEM should consider being more present in their communities by volunteering at libraries, makerspaces, schools, and other community gatherings.”
—Lindsay Diamond, PhD, Director of Education, SparkFun Electronics

Alexa Ingram-Cauchi Leaders on Girls in STEM

“Provide them with opportunities to work on projects that they are passionate about, in collaboration with people that they care about.” —Mitchel Resnick, Professor of Learning Research, MIT Media Lab

“At a minimum, we can share stories of women in these fields and fight the tendency to automatically label girls as “not interested” in STEM. We can also promote gender-neutral STEM tools and toys.”
—Kay Moffett, Director of Education, littleBits

“A recent Girl Scouts study reports that fewer than 60 percent of girls have met a woman in a science, technology, engineering, or math. We can close this gap as individuals by celebrating and showcasing the successes of more women in STEM fields. People in technology or science fields—male or female—can mentor girls in their communities. Together we can encourage more girls to consider exploring the fields of the future.” —Randy Swearer, Vice President of Education, Autodesk

Alexa Cafe All-Girls Tech Camp Mentorship

5. Who has been a role model in your career?

Megan Smith Engaging Girls in STEM

Megan J. Smith, previously a vice president of Google[x] at Google, assumed the office of Chief Technology Officer of the United States in 2014. Image courtesy of David Sifry.

“First and foremost would be my mother, who showed an incredible amount of strength, fortitude, and an undying support for whatever path I pursued. While my mother did not work in a STEM field, she instilled in me an incredible work ethic and the confidence to pursue whatever goals I set for myself. Additionally, my high school biology teacher helped foster my love of science.” —Lindsay Diamond, PhD, Director of Education, SparkFun Electronics

“Megan Smith, the first female U.S. Chief Technology Officer, because she is working to bring the latest in technology to government and schools and also working hard to get more girls and women into STEM.”
—Kay Moffett, Director of Education, littleBits

“My professors in college.” —Erika Hanson, Public Relations Assistant Managers, Dremel

“My brother, who has introduced me to the wonders of physics and encouraged me to study computing. Also, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.” —Krishna Vedati, CEO, Tynker 

“The women in my family. They are resilient to a fault, mindful beyond their years and have taught me to find that internalDrive each and every day.”
—Alexa Ingram-Cauchi, Co-Founder, iD Tech

Girls Discover Tech at Alexa Café

While girls attend and enjoy all of our five summer camp divisions, Alexa Café provides a unique all-girls setting where girls can meet mentors and get excited about the possibilities technology brings. Your daughter can join us at one of 14 campuses around the country to learn about technology through the lens of philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Learn more about Alexa Café or view all of our 150+ prestigious summer camp locations.