Local, National Efforts Aim To Draw Girls Into STEM Fields

By Jody Lawrence-Turner
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Women are a workforce minority in science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions, four fields that the U.S. Department of Commerce expects to grow at twice the rate of other professions by 2018.

Washington is among a handful of states expected to have the fastest job growth in so-called STEM professions, and the need to address gender disparity is becoming even more critical.

“There’s going to be a demand for these fields, and if you exclude women, you are excluding a big part of the workforce,” said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp.

“It’s pretty clear that a lot of women want a career, and if they are not part of these occupations, you are leaving a lot of human capital on the table.”

Efforts underway nationally, and in Spokane, aim to draw girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Men dominate the sciences and make up more than 55 percent of mathematicians and statisticians, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Engineering and computer sciences have the lowest percentage of women at 14 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

A 2010 study by the American Association of University Women concluded that there are three reasons for the inequality between men and women in the sciences: social and environmental factors; the college environment; and the continuing importance of bias, often at an unconscious level.

The association’s study also found that “many girls have already formed opinions about which occupations are appropriate for their sex by their teenage years, and then later decide to avoid male-dominated fields. Strong STEM education programs can help end the gender imbalance.”

Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho is trying to expose girls to STEM as young as kindergarten.

Girl Scout leaders teach STEM-related lessons through activities like making cookies, reducing trash or stargazing on overnight campouts.

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