According to the National Center For Women and Information Technology, there could be as many as 1.1 million job openings in computer-related fields by 2024. But in 2016, only 3% of the computing workforce were African American women. To bridge the gap and encourage women of color to pursue more careers in science, technology, engineering, and math — known as STEM — organizations like Inforum and Bosch Community Foundation are creating and funding programs that will provide mentorships and opportunities within their communities.
Studies have found that children who attend preschool score 21% better on math and reading tests in kindergarten than those who don’t attend preprimary programs. But in academics, math and science are still often seen as “male” subjects. Girls often feel discouraged from excelling or even participating in these areas, although they have the aptitude to do so. In fact, a recent study found that the lack of self-confidence in female students impeded their ability to solve math and science problems, resulting in worse scores than they might otherwise achieve, given that they outperformed boys overall in these subjects.
This age-old problem might partially explain why there are so few women who pursue careers in science, math, technology, and engineering. In the state of Michigan alone, there are currently more than 100,000 job openings, many of them STEM careers, that remain unfilled. Women, and particularly women of color, are significantly underrepresented in these fields. A 2017 survey conducted by the ISACA (formerly known as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association) found that 48% of women in tech found a lack of mentorship to be a barrier they experienced in the field. Further, 42% said the lack of female role models barred them from living up to their potential. Around 39% experienced gender bias in the workplace, with more than 35% saying they were either paid less than men for the same skillset or had fewer growth opportunities than men in the same field.
With these and other findings in mind, the inSTEM Initiative was formed as a way to provide guidance for young women who have an interest in STEM careers and keep them updated about new opportunities.
Inforum’s inSTEM program will connect role models and mentors in STEM and automotive fields with girls and young women from kindergarten through college. The launch of the program was appropriately marked by Inforum’s decision to bring in Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, to speak at their annual luncheon and meet with 100 girls enrolled in Detroit schools about the importance of math and science.
Through a separate program, the Bosch Community Fund granted $250,000 to the University of Michigan’s School of Education and Center for Education, Design, Evaluation and Research to be used for STEM-focused grant programs. This money will fund hands-on learning projects and will connect teachers across the nation in the hopes of providing better learning experiences for all students throughout Michigan. The Fund is run by Robert Bosch LLC. LLCs represent nearly 23% of all small businesses in the nation, and the Bosch Community Fund highlights that small efforts can make a big impact.
But there are still ways for women of color to become more involved in the tech field, even if they don’t have access to these Michigan-based programs. Developing relationships with those in the field or those who can act as a champion will be vital, as is a proactive and strong work ethic. And for those who do end up in successful tech careers should become the role model they weren’t able to have, experts say.
While some of that is easier said than done, those in the field hope that other states will follow suit and understand the importance of getting smart, strong women of color involved in STEM careers. In fact, the growth of the nation depends on it.