When I joined STEMconnector as an Atlas Corps Fellow three months ago, I was shocked to see statistics describing the inequalities that exist in the job market, particularly in jobs related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Given that 71% of jobs in
America will require STEM skills, I saw it as imperative that we get to work on encouraging more women and minorities to pursue STEM careers.It is not like there are no opportunities in STEM: There were over 600,000 unfilled STEM manufacturing jobs in 2012, alone. Over 67% of employers were reported to have unfilled STEM jobs! Given that the average STEM job in the U.S. pays better than a non-STEM job, and that 76% of STEM jobs were held by men, I feel strongly that we need to fill more of these better-paying jobs with women. The situation reminded me of the issues facing my country, South Sudan, were 85% of all jobs are held by males. This imbalance prompted a constitutionally-mandated affirmative action regime, which requires employers to reserve 25% jobs specifically for women.
Internalizing all of these issues in my first week at STEMconnector, I wondered how South Sudan could be in the same league as the U.S., where women are highly empowered. Later, I realized that this has to do with what happens in the STEM career pipeline: Fifty percent of girls drop out of STEM careers prematurely. How can we change this?
“The solution is mentoring girls in STEM,” said Julie Kantor, Chief Partnership Officer at STEMconnector. She enthusiastically assured me: “We are building a database of one million women and male mentors, part of Million Women Mentors (MWM) – an initiative to increase the number of girls and young women persisting in STEM careers.”
Although 55,000 people had already pledged to mentor by the time I joined STEMconnector, it was not clear to me how the one million mark would be reached. In a matter of days, I realized that I was joining a movement that had set a firm foundation and was determined to change the state of affairs. The robust engagement with partners, connectivity of teams, powerful use of social media, and the extensive personal networks of our leadership have enabled the growth of this movement. The determination and hard work of the founding members has been appreciated and amplified by other partners and sponsors.
In June, the statistics started to catch up to my imagination: From 58,000 pledges on June 5th, we reached 98,000 on July 25th. The “MWM Bi–Weekly” newsletter ran with the headline “Just Released: Almost 60,000 Pledges to Mentor Girls in STEM.” Leaders have stepped up in 24 to pledge an additional 110.000 mentors between July 28th and August 1st, bringing the total number of pledged mentors to 170,000, with an expected total of over 200,000 by end of August! Today, the target of one million mentors that once appeared far-fetched to me three months ago is becoming a reality. By pledging to mentor, the 170,000 women and men have committed 12 weeks and 20 hours of their time to STEM mentoring for young women between 16 and 24 years of age.
Along the way, I remarked that a strategic national alliance would be required to realize a dream as big as MWM. Prominent leaders, such as Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, stepped up to forge such an alliance. In announcing Iowa’s pledge commitment, Lt. Governor Reynolds perfectly encapsulated STEM’s importance to our future. “In the United States, STEM is a driving force behind economic growth, stability, and educational success,” she said. “That’s why we’re creating an environment in Iowa that prepares all of our students with the necessary skills to compete in a global, knowledge-based economy.”
Today, I believe more than ever that it is possible to assign up our million in four years. It is thrilling to me to see how this movement has taken off within a short period of time. It is especially exciting to imagine how this push might inspire millions of young women and girls to pursue STEM careers in America!
Even more interesting is the fact that, there is already a growing global demand for this initiative. Over 10 countries have expressed enthusiasm. African and Asia are in the pipeline.
To pledge to mentor girls and young women in STEM, please click here.