Two years ago, Minnesota STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) leaders from across the corporate, education, and government sectors came together to discuss our individual and organizational experiences related to the gender gap in the STEM fields. Although everyone’s circumstances were very different, the trends and themes of our stories were all connected, and we decided to ignite a movement to bring intentional focus to narrowing the STEM career gender gap within our state.
Before we launched into action, we knew we first had to ground ourselves in the data of the current state of the gender gap in STEM careers in Minnesota and the needs of our target populations. It was important for us to consider a wide variety of voices from within the communities where we live and work. Our desire was to truly understand the why behind the gender gap prior to defining how to approach a solution.
Eighty percent of jobs in the United States require STEM skills, but only 12% of those jobs are filled by women working in STEM for the duration of their careers. Worse yet, recent data indicate that college graduation rates for women with STEM degrees are declining because fewer women are pursuing majors in these fields. Furthermore, it is estimated that 2.4 million STEM jobs go unfilled!
We gathered focus groups of fifth-, eighth-, and eleventh-grade girls, along with their parents, to dive into how they make coursework selections in school and career path decisions. We listened, and heard time and time again that girls were moving away from STEM-related fields due to:
- lack of encouragement and confidence in these subject areas, and
- lack of exposure to defined pathways for a variety of STEM careers.
After analyzing the data and highlights from the focus groups, the enormity of the problem and our role in solving the gap became clear. Our responsibility is to be a catalyst to connect classrooms and corporations. Thus, we created an engagement model to provide consistent encouragement to young women to pursue STEM careers, as well as provide exposure to those jobs through a powerful network of corporate partners.
We began by establishing a Minnesota chapter of Million Women Mentors (MWM-MN) and designed the Trailblazers panels, tours, and mentoring model (see Resources for more information). Today, volunteer professionals participate in school events and provide corporate tours. Our innovative Trailblazer events feature panel discussions for high school and college women, giving them the opportunity to learn about the experiences of STEM professionals, based on the journeys, failures, and backgrounds of young women succeeding in corporate STEM careers. These young professionals often become so inspired to pass the torch that they continue to speak in schools, mentor within their organizations, and foster lifelong connections in the STEM educational, organizational, and governmental communities.
Imagine the diversity of thought leadership and innovation that would result if STEM positions were 50% filled by women. Their career possibilities become limitless and their earning potential maximized by earning, on average, a third more in a STEM job versus a non-STEM profession. Employers can fill their open positions from a diverse selection of qualified candidates, and women become increasingly empowered to design, build, and launch products and services aimed at the betterment of our world.
Inspired by our story and want to connect? Visit MWM’s website to:
- learn more about MWM and what it does nationally and in your state;
- sign up to become a mentee, mentor, or corporate partner;
- sign your organization up to learn about future programs or events;
- read and subscribe to newsletters; and
- find resources for starting a chapter in your state, if one doesn’t yet exist.
You can also follow our social media channels to stay informed on MWM-MN news and events:
- Hashtags: #MillionWMentorsMN, #MillionWMentors, #MNTrailblazers, #MNTrailblazersLIVE
- Facebook: @MillionWomenMentorsMN
- Instagram and Twitter: @MWM_MN