What do girls want to be when they grow up? Studies show that girls and young women are drawn to professions that are about changing the world.

According to a study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute, 88 percent of all girls want to make a difference in the world, and 90 per cent want to help people. Traditionally, jobs that fulfill these motivations are not based in STEM sectors. Rather, teachers, doctors and social workers have commonly been go-to professions for those intent on making a difference.

At the same time, research also shows that girls are keenly interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the same study by the Girl Scouts found that 74% of teenage girls are interested in STEM. The thing is, they are still largely choosing careers outside of these areas. The reasons behind their career choices vary, but tend to come down to:

  1. Long-standing stereotypes that suggest girls aren’t ‘wired’ to succeed in STEM the same way boys are
  2. Deep-seeded discrimination, perpetuated by these stereotypes, that pushes women and girls out of STEM studies
  3. The feeling that STEM related fields aren’t going to give girls the opportunity to create the change they are craving to make

But the future of work is going to look a lot different than the present, and skills that are developed through STEM will not only be in high demand, they will also be the skills that will in fact enable young people to drive the change they want to make.

As the gender gap in STEM remains large, the key today is to connect the dots for young people so that they can see how studies and careers in STEM can help them achieve the goals they have for themselves, their communities, and the world around them.

Closing the Gender Gap in STEM

Back in 2016, a report released by Girls Who Code in partnership with Accenture found that women stood to lose $299 billion in economic opportunity by 2025 and that the share of women in computing would shrink without significant change.

Fortunately, Girls Who Code has been a driver of that much-needed change. Having served 300,000 girls in their program (as of its 2019 annual report), Girls Who Code has taught 185,000 girls to code, flooding the pipeline with female coders.

“We’re well on our way to reaching gender parity in entry-level tech jobs by 2027,” says Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code. “I never could have imagined seeing this kind of success so soon — our college-aged alumni are choosing to major in computer science or related fields at 15 times the national rate — and I’m so excited to see what’s next.”

The key is to make sure the girls studying today see a clear and fulfilling path to STEM jobs when it comes time for them to enter the workforce.

Why is it Important to Fill the STEM Pipeline with Women and Girls?

Consider these facts. The Canadian economy is expected to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, all of which will require a new mix of skills. Digital fluency will be essential to all them.

What’s more, jobs in computer science are some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs in this economy, and experts in STEM education agree that boosting the number of women in STEM fields would expand the talent pool, and add more innovators ready to solve the problems of the future. In fact, whenever diversity is introduced into a company, industry or team, new dimensions are explored and previously overlooked solutions are often exposed.

“If you have an inclusive, diverse workforce, [what you make] is going to reflect the needs of the people in the communities that we’re developing solutions for,” says Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer for IT consultancy Accenture and a Girls Who Code board member.

Nurturing a Love of STEM Early is Key

The tech industry is – and always will be – in need of new workers. Whether it’s computer science, coding, engineering or software development, coding skills will help young workers get and thrive in these jobs. Like a foreign language, coding skills are best learned early, as once kids are fluent in the type of thinking required to break down and solve coding problems, they are able to transition more easily into increasingly advanced coding languages.

In fact, a study by Google and Gallup shows that early exposure is one of the most important ways we can shrink the gender gap in STEM. It boosts confidence in kids,

especially young girls, while they’re still interested in technology.1

Equipping Young People for the Future of Work

RBC Future Launch is another program that is determined to empower the youth of today for the jobs of tomorrow by providing increased access to work-related programs, tools and resources.

To help prepare Canadians for a drastically changing workforce – one where technical skills will help them thrive – RBC Future Launch is providing access to work experience, networks, new skill-building, and resources to enhance their mental well-being. Through a ten-year commitment, $500 million investment, and co-creation with governments, educators, youth-serving organizations and private-sector companies, RBC is pushing to help Canadian youth own the 2020s and beyond – and to help young people navigate a new world of work that will fundamentally re-shape Canada.

According to RBC, it’s especially important to ensure a continued focus on improving access for traditionally marginalized youth – and girls in particular – to ensure that they have equitable access to learning opportunities. 55 per cent of RBC Future Launch program participants are female, which is great news for Canada.

Marrying Interest, Skills and Career Aspirations

So the stage is set. The pieces are in place. Organizations such as Girls Who Code and programs like RBC Future Launch are making great strides in preparing more girls for future careers in STEM. And girls are interested. But now, we need to connect intention with action. If more girls learn that STEM careers can achieve their goals to help and serve, more girls are likely to choose STEM.

Says Thea Sahr, M.Ed., Director of Programs, National Engineers Week Foundation, “Engineering is a field that allows girls to actualize their dreams of making a difference, collaborating and helping people, all while making a great salary.”

Adds Saujani: “I think that if we want to cure cancer, we have to teach girls to code. If we want to do something about climate change, we have to teach girls to code. If we want to solve homelessness in our city and our country, teach girls to code. They’re change makers.”

The key is to market coding and STEM careers to girls the same way more common careers for women are promoted, so that more girls become intrigued by and choose STEM fields as their number one career choices. Because once they do, they will become unstoppable forces of change and innovation.

1 – Tinkertopia: Why Coding is an investment in your child’s future: https://www.tynkertopia.org/2019/04/why-coding-is-an-investment-in-your-childs-future/

Diane Amato is a Toronto-based freelance writer who loves to talk about finances, travel and technology.

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