As a new college graduate, my first job was to speak at high schools across the U.S. to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. As part of this program, called “Previews of Progress,” I demonstrated “new” technologies in areas like lasers, turbine engines and hydraulics to get students excited about the possibilities. The world, and STEM, has certainly changed since then, and I smile now to think about the broad consumer use of these former wonders (not to mention my ‘70s pantsuits)!
Today, amazing advancements in technology alone have brought us personal computing, the internet and smartphones. But some things haven’t changed. Despite their dreams, interest and potential, there are still too few girls pursuing STEM education, and too few women in STEM careers.
We are acutely aware of the need to close the gender gap in the technology industry, and in all STEM fields. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women currently hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. And, globally, only 16 percent of female students graduate from STEM subjects, according to the World Economic Forum. This needs to change.
Women’s equal representation in the technology industry, and in all STEM fields, is not only a matter of fairness. Our economies and our societies lose out when we fail to engage half of the world’s brainpower in our engines of innovation. This trend will continue if we don’t invest our time, energy and resources in a number of key areas.
First, because research continues to demonstrate that female role models are crucial for inspiring girls to stay in STEM, we must celebrate the many contributions women already make. Recently, the Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures,” brought to light the incredible story of three African-American women whose work at NASA was key to winning the space race in the 1950s. Until this movie, their story was nearly lost to history. Women’s roles in such endeavors often go unrecognized and unsung.
It’s no surprise, then, that because young girls do not see themselves reflected as scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists in the world around them, many do not believe they can pursue careers in these fields. Closing the gender gap requires us to challenge and shift these cultural norms.
To that end, Microsoft launched a new movement last year calling on girls to #MakeWhatsNext. The campaign raises awareness of the issues that cause girls to drop out of or lose interest in STEM, and aims to pique their excitement in how they can change the world — if they stay engaged.
The response to #MakeWhatsNext last year was incredible. With more than 14 million video views across social channels, it’s clear that girls’ passion is strengthened when they see female role models who have created innovations that are used in our everyday lives. As the motto goes, “If you see it, you can be it.”
Timed with International Women’s Day 2017, we are building upon the campaign. Today, we released a new video to challenge girls to stay in STEM so they are empowered to solve the problems they care about most, ranging from finding solutions to climate change to curing cancer.
Additionally, to help shift perceptions about STEM jobs, Microsoft and LinkedIn launched a new experiential tool in conjunction with the campaign to demonstrate how girls can pursue their passions across industries and social causes. By 2018, it is projected that 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled. The Career Explorer is a tool to show girls and women different ways that STEM is in demand and inspire them to pursue their passions, talents and skills in these areas.
Second, we must increase access to computer science education. Education is a critical lever to empowering the next generation, yet today only half of all schools in the U.S. offer a computer science curriculum. Partly as a result of that, only 6.7 percent of U.S. girls go on to graduate with STEM degrees, according to BestColleges.com. Among our initiatives to address this challenge, Microsoft provides free computer science learning opportunities and resources throughout the year, via partners including Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Girls Who Code, to reach students of all ages through our YouthSpark program. More than 80 percent of the students who benefit from YouthSpark initiatives globally are from underserved communities, and more than half are female.
Third, industry must step up. As we shared in our most recent workforce demographic update, we are working to close the gender gap at Microsoft. We are dedicating resources to recruit top-notch female talent into technical roles, while working to empower women to take STEM and leadership roles in the tech industry.
Fourth, we must support female inventors. Women currently hold only 7.5 percent of all patents and represent only up to 15 percent of all inventors — at this rate it will take another 140 years for women to obtain parity with their male counterparts. In response, a year ago, Microsoft launched a Patent Program to spur patent creation by leveraging Microsoft’s patent law resources. The program aims to eliminate several barriers to filing for patents including legal guidance and funding, a critical step to empowering women to turn their brilliant ideas into businesses. Among the beneficiaries so far is a group of six young women who invented the world’s first real-time text-to-braille converter.
We started a movement to inspire girls, as well as the parents, educators and nonprofits who encourage and support them, to #MakeWhatsNext. With more encouragement and focused effort, we can address barriers that have been keeping girls out of STEM for far too long. We hope that you’ll join us in growing this movement by sharing these inspiring stories and resources with your friends and family.