Shaping the future – and diversity – of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce starts with education today.
Data show that women are under-represented in STEM careers. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold less than a quarter of STEM jobs in the U.S. Likewise, women occupy only about 30% of the C-suite jobs in the healthcare sector. Meanwhile, researchshows girls are interested in STEM but social barriers, like gender stereotypes and lack of representation, discourage their pursuit of STEM educations and careers.
The problems of the world cannot—and will not—be solved with such glaring disparities. Global challenges like COVID-19 require smart and diverse thinkers from all types of backgrounds, genders, and cultures. To ensure everyone can live their best life now and in the future means meeting people where they are with life-changing technologies and information.
An essential starting point is education. Right now, there are access and representation barriers in education that are hindering diversity in the STEM field. Some students lack access to resources teaching critical STEM skills and many, including girls, do not have the opportunity to see themselves in STEM professions. Said simply, girls need to see people like them in STEM. To do so, educators and families need to be equipped with the right tools to educate and sustain inspiration.
That’s why Abbott Fund created Future Well Kids, an educational initiative for grades 5-8 providing no-cost resources exploring STEM and health, and partnered with Discovery Education to help deliver on its vision. From lesson plans and educator guides to family resources and professional learning, the program focuses on uniting communities around helping young people establish healthy habits.
The content – featuring some of the women who lead today’s STEM industries – is specifically designed to engage students in middle school, a time when research shows girls begin to move away from STEM. This matters because researchproves that seeing really is believing when it comes to representation in STEM.
Another way Abbott is offering girls opportunities in STEM is through a high school internship. Abbott has hired 15 former high school interns since the program started in 2012; 11 of them being young women. The internship has been so successful that Abbott created a 30-page blueprint called “Shaping the Future of STEM,” which outlines the program and is available for free download. It details how other organizations can create their own internships using the Abbott model.
The same federal data that tell us women make up less than a quarter of the STEM workforce also offers another insight: women with STEM jobs earn 35 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs. Helping girls stay curious about STEM and encouraging them to become young women working in STEM doesn’t only change our world – it changes theirs too. That’s why we’re committed to connecting them with futures full of possibility that STEM can provide.
[Editor's Note: Abbott and Discovery Education will be speaking at the 11th Annual International Women's Day Forum on March 5. See the full agenda and register here.]