The Role Of STEM Education In Achieving Gender Equality

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to “address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.”

There are 17 SDGs. Each acknowledges that action in one area will affect outcomes in others. For example, “ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.”

The fourth and fifth SDGs are quality education and gender equality, respectively. These two are tightly coupled—we can’t talk about gender equality without talking about quality education. For example, we can’t achieve gender equality without first being educated on the importance of diversity, including race, gender, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic background. Likewise, we can’t achieve gender equality without representing it within the education system and recognizing gaps in equal education opportunities for all genders or underrepresented groups.

Simply put, we must be educated, and we must educate.

To better understand the work that must be done to address these specific SDGs, we must first understand where we are in the journey. According to data published by UN Women, women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people. The same findings indicate that females will earn 10% to 20% more in wages for each additional year they’re in primary school.

With such an enormous discrepancy in early education for women, it’s no surprise that women are underrepresented in emerging roles in the workforce. In fact, as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues the expected timeline for “closing the gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.” Currently, women hold a fraction of the positions within sectors that demand innovative technical skills; this includes cloud computing, in which women comprise 14% of the workforce, and data and AI, which includes women as 32% of those employed in the field.

These statistics are alarming, and we must do better to ensure young girls around the world receive the proper education to be equally represented within the workplace. As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution with digital transformation, advances in technology and increased automation, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is an absolute imperative for underrepresented groups. If we don’t invest in girls’ education with technology, it will be more challenging for already underrepresented women to stay in the workforce, and they’ll be limited to less skilled jobs with lower pay grades.

So, where do we start? I believe that there are four key practices that every corporation—especially technology corporations—must commit to executing as part of their sustainable development goals for quality education and gender equality.

1. Become an active partner. There are a number of nonprofit organizations whose mission is to provide young girls and women with the STEM education needed to become leaders in technology. Organizations like Girls Who Code are always seeking partners who can actively participate in their mission through financial resources, internship openings and networking opportunities. Through these partnerships, organizations can get their hands dirty and actually be a part of the solution.

2. Put your money where your mouth is. Every corporation funds corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. What better way to do this than to give back to those organizations that are developing your future workforce? Financial donations and corporate-sponsored fundraisers are in dire need, and it’s the money raised through these efforts that helps drive the long-term success of nonprofit organizations.

3. Take an outside-in approach. Internal peer-led advocacy groups are often designed to help create awareness and continued education for members. For instance, groups specific to women in technology will bring in external guest speakers who can share career inspiration and best practices. But the more people we can bring into these opportunities—especially young women outside the organization—the more they’ll benefit from this type of exposure. This also applies to mentorship opportunities—where possible, advocacy group members can seek opportunities with local organizations or educational institutions to mentor other young women in the field and help them transition from a student to a woman in technology.

4. Create internships for the future of technology. Internship programs have become an incredible way to develop and source new talent within any company, but it’s common practice to create these roles around current needs. But what about our future needs? With emerging technologies like the cloud, AI and edge computing, do we have the talent pool needed to effectively support this growing space? Corporations have an opportunity to help develop the younger generation and prepare them to succeed in a future career that will undoubtedly be weighted in modern infrastructures and processes.

As a female CTO, I take personal responsibility for what I can do to give back to the next generation. I was one of the lucky young girls who had an early STEM education that I used to navigate a thriving career in the industry. But not every female has this opportunity. I’m committed to doing my part to close the gender gap and create opportunities for quality education. What will you do to make a difference for the next generation?

Forbes

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