To Value Girls Properly, Plug the Leaky Pipeline in STEM

Editor’s Note: The following essay is by Julie Perry, VP of Marketing, at Boardable.

When I was a girl, I used to watch characters like Murphy Brown and Angela Bower from “Who’s The Boss?” on television. I remember seeing these incredible women workplace role models and how tough and tenacious they were. They got the job done, often in fields primarily dominated by men.

Girls in STEM
Julie Perry, Vice President of Marketing at Boardable.com, discusses strategies to improve female participation in STEM. (Image Credit: Boardable)

But while they made for great businesswomen role models, I did not have those same role models in fields related to science, technology, engineering or math. I was fortunate to have a father who encouraged me to do anything I dreamed of, but many young girls today don’t have the same privilege. Even as television yielded to the internet, giving us new ways to connect, girls still struggle to find support and understand the value they bring to the world, especially in STEM.

So, we must become the new Murphy Browns and help young girls understand how important they are to our future. They need to feel valued as they pursue their dreams. Those of us in the technology industry can open the doors to the STEM world and empower girls to jump in feet first.

To Support Girls in STEM, Fix the “leaky pipeline”

So many wonderful organizations are leading this charge, but I’ve personally been involved with Girls Inc. for years. The organization provides programming on a range of topics for young girls, from empathy and beauty standards to science and technology programs. My best friend introduced me to Girls Inc. when she recommended I consider becoming a board member.

But the mission and programs offered by Girls, Inc. were so interesting to me, I decided I first wanted to “get my hands dirty” as a volunteer. I wanted to serve as a role model and mentor to young girls and experience these programs so I could help further the Girls Inc. mission directly. And once I got involved, I saw how much these girls could gain from empowerment, and how those gains compound over time.

Starting early matters so much, especially with technology. Girls don’t receive the same encouragement to join STEM fields as boys do. If they can’t find great female role models, girls start falling through the “leaky pipeline” and, by high school, it’s often too late.

Personally, my god-daughter greatly benefited from Girls Inc. programs, which she attended some years back. She is now a math and science whiz — and sees these fields as a path forward in her future career plans. In particular, their STEM-focused summer camps introduce these subjects as very doable and realistic for their futures.

The programs offer opportunities that we didn’t see in the days of Murphy Brown, like encouraging girls to spend their summers building robots. It’s great to get girls comfortable with each other and a female leader to discuss things unique to the female experience. Plus, educating a girl about how to love, care and stand up for herself makes a world of difference. And with how Girls Inc. is also using technology to help plug the leaky pipeline, they are on a path toward helping every girl realize their potential.

There is still much to do in the tech industry

The Girls Inc. mission is: “Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.” Strong, smart and bold resonate with me. I personally embody these traits, and I encourage my niece and god-daughter to live the same way.

These are the values I try to bring to work every day at a job that has given me access to many wonderful opportunities. I get to work for a company creating software purpose-built for organizations like Girls Inc. that give back to their communities. And I can support Girls Inc. programs to educate and empower young girls to follow their passions.

While I’m part of a great company that makes this kind of work a priority, the tech industry as a whole still has work to do. Women still only hold one in every four computing roles, despite the rapid growth of STEM jobs in the U.S. And once they join the tech workforce, women face a lot of uphill battles as their careers develop.

But we can do it. We can help young girls get inspired and want to pursue careers in STEM fields, and we can build better workplaces to help women shine in their roles. When it comes to helping girls see their value in the tech industry, here’s where I think we need to start:

To Increase Girls in STEM, Know your stuff

Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable learning subjects that don’t seem like they’re “right” for you. Even if you don’t see many role models or your parents or teachers don’t push it for you as an option, if it speaks to you, explore it. In the tech world, if you know what you’re doing and you’re effective, people will notice. 

To Encourage Girls in STEM, Model Continuous Learning

While I fell into the technology space, I’ve always done whatever I could to catch up and learn more. Recently, I finished a coding class so I could better communicate with our engineers and developers. I’ve taken several data analytics courses over the years to better analyze and communicate how data tells its own story. And I’ve leaned into unique traits I think many women have and should bring to the workplace. Being empathetic to coworkers and approaching problem-solving holistically can be serious difference-makers to a company.

Put in the work

If you’re frustrated that you have to work a little bit harder to prove yourself, think of it as resilience training. We’re still experiencing shifts in what’s culturally acceptable as far as women working in certain roles or fields and in receiving equal salaries and opportunities. A lot of boundaries still need pushing. The need to remind ourselves that we are “strong, smart and bold” holds true for us all.

The future of young girls and STEM fields are intertwined, and great opportunities await them. For those of us who can help girls understand their value and feel supported as they chase their dreams, it’s our responsibility to enable them to the best of our ability.

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About Julie Perry

As Vice President of Marketing at Boardable, Julie is passionate about helping nonprofits tap into new technology in order to better serve their missions and constituents. With 18 years of online marketing experience under her belt, Julie has previously served as the VP of Digital Marketing at two digital agencies and as the Director of Marketing at a mobile app startup.

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Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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