TV watchers and STEM enthusiasts (science/technology/engineering and math) did a little happy dance last week when news hit that “The Big Bang Theory” has been renewed for an 11th season. The monster hit sitcom depicts the lives of two Cal Tech physicists and their circle of unlikely friends, making it ‘cool’ to be a nerd. In fact, the show has become so popular with scientifically-minded fans that the cast and crew have endowed a UCLA scholarship for students in the STEM fields, and advocacy for women in STEM fields is finally on the rise.
One Emmy nominated cast member – Mayim Bialik – goes a step further in her advocacy. With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Bialik is passionate about encouraging women to pursue professions in science, technology, engineering and math. She knows firsthand the challenges women face on the journey through a STEM career path. That’s why she supports the HerWorld partnership to bring as many everyday role models in science to high schools around the U.S.
Encouraging any student to focus on STEM subjects and consider entering these fields as a full-time profession is hard enough, but it is twice as hard to persuade female students. Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women comprise 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but are under-represented in particular science and engineering occupations. Females make up 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers, and only 12 percent of civil engineers.
The good news? Organizations are working harder than ever to reverse this trend.
Take TechGirlz, for instance. TechGirlz is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations. Volunteers develop fun and educational hands-on workshops, called TechShopz, and sponsor a yearly Entrepreneur Summer Camp. These efforts aim to get middle-school age girls interested in different kinds of technology, and demonstrate the many career options available. Students can also interact with professionals who have carved out successful careers in technology fields, empowering them to be future technology leaders. As a Philadelphia-based technology company, Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) is a TechGirlz sponsor and a number of Sungard AS employees are ardent supporters and volunteers.
“Gender parity is a prevalent issue in the IT industry and we recognize the importance of exposing adolescent girls to opportunities in the technology sector,” said Patty Boujoukos, Chief Compliance Office, Sungard AS. “Studies show that girls’ interest in technology jobs lowers to 18% after they enter high school, so we partner with organizations like TechGirlz in order to provide young female students with frequent involvement in the technology sector,” Boujoukos added.
Another event, Go Red Goes STEM, leverages the American Heart Association’s successful Go Red for Women program centered helping women improve their overall health and well-being. AHA combines this with a STEM career fair, which empowers young women to take control of their health and consider a STEM career that could impact the health of all Americans. Sungard AS employees in their Chicago office supported the Go Red Goes STEM “speed mentoring” program last month, taking the concept of speed dating to give young women the opportunity to meet key contacts in STEM fields with quick introductions and discussions.
The common thread through all these activities? Mentorship, something that Sungard AS employee Arti Venkatesh can attest to.
Venkatesh was recently given a Stevie Award for Women in Business recognizing her ability to mentor females both at work and in area schools. She is widely respected for managing highly-motivated teams and delivering impactful products and platforms. But just as important to her as product development and customer experience, Arti Venkatesh is passionate about helping women develop their careers and find a path for making significant contributions to the business. She has the ability to engage with people from different functions, levels in organization, and cultures on both technical and business topics, articulating complex issues in easy to understand terms.
With some great role models – tech gurus, astronauts, surgeon generals, even neuroscientists – keeping women in the STEM fields is becoming easier and more successful. But when those role models get to play themselves in a hit TV show? That’s a blueprint for success.