Creating a Work-Around for Recruiting Women to STEM

I don’t know how many times I have talked to educators who told me they have tried to increase the number of women in STEM but their efforts just didn’t work, so they stopped trying.  “What did you do?” I’ll say. “Oh we put up a flyer,” or “We had an open house that few women came to,” is often the kind of response I get.  Well, I know that there are at least 24 major evidence-based recruitment strategies they might have tried.  (I know this from the STEM Program Readiness Assessment for Women and Girls that we are developing.  Look out for more about the Assessment coming soon!)

It’s interesting to me, the same technology educators who might stay up all night trying to figure out how to make a computer program work, and are very familiar with the world of work-a-rounds, just give up when the first thing they try doesn’t work to recruit more women or girls to STEM. Why is that? I’d love your comments and thoughts about this.

PS  If you’d like to learn what those 24 strategies are, check out our online training.

Gabby Douglas Teaches Women in STEM Not To Give Up

Did you, like me, watch Gabby Douglas win two gold medals in the 2012 Summer Olympics? I was so happy when she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. What a star!

What struck me, as I watched Gabby, was that although she made some serious mistakes throughout her routines while competing – such as her fall on the balance beam – she didn’t let it shake her, she didn’t quit, she just kept going, maintained her focus and did her best. And her reward? Two gold medals!

So often women suffer from perfectionism – which results in an all or nothing approach for them in life – that can mean that as soon as they make a serious mistake, they give up, rather than try again and keep going like Gabby. Research shows that when women get a poor or failing grade in STEM courses they think it’s because they aren’t well-suited for the field and often drop out. By contrast, men are more likely to think the problem was something external, such as a poor teacher, and repeat the course.

We have a number of articles in our Proven Practices Collection about retention of women in STEM that document this phenomenon and we are soon to add more! I also talk about how to counteract this dynamic with your female students in my WomenTech Educators online training.

Gabby Douglas shows us that you can be a champion and win the gold by being outstanding, taking your mistakes in stride and focusing on the future.

Educators, have you seen this perfectionism phenomenon in your classes with women in STEM? How have you overcome this?

Calypso Rose: What the “Lioness of the Jungle” can tell us about STEM

A few weeks back I saw the documentary, “Calypso Rose: Lioness of the Jungle,” about the first professional woman Calypso singer from Trinidad. Calypso Rose was the first woman to win the Calypso King contest and the Trinidad Road March competition in the 1970s. Still performing at 72 years old, she’s now written more than 800 songs. Some of her calypsos are about women’s issues such as domestic violence, and she’s used her platform of music to bring awareness around the world.

In her documentary, she talks about how much resistance she faced as the first woman calypso singer and many of the stories she told sounded so familiar – they are the stories of all women breaking into a man’s world. First, how fellow musicians tried to ban her from competing in the formerly all-male Calypso King contest, but she persisted and eventually even won the competition. Later she talked about how she was so careful not to have relations with any of the other musicians she was working with, and living with, in the Calypso tents, yet there were still rumors that she was sleeping with all the male musicians and then other rumors that she was sleeping with the female musicians. Through it all, she kept her head high, and focused on her music.

During the film, a professional female calypso singer from St. Lucia meets Calypso Rose for the first time and is overcome with emotion. She tells Calypso Rose that she has been her role model all of her life and that she helped her to see it was possible for her to pursue her own career in this male-dominated genre of music. While today, we don’t have that many more women firsts remaining in the US, the dynamic is still the same for women and girls who might be the firsts in their families, their communities, their schools, and among their friends. They still need the hope and inspiration of the female role models who have gone before them so that they know they too can do it. Not everyone can be a pioneer like Calypso Rose, pioneers by their nature are few in numbers, but all girls can feel it’s possible to be a Calypso singer, a drummer like Sheila E, an astronaut like Sally Ride, or a surgeon general like Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Or equally important, a computer network technician perhaps like her Aunt, a geographic information systems analyst like her sister, or an auto technician like her neighbor Sue. Female role models help women and girls see their own unlimited potential.

Is there a female role model who inspired you? Please share in the comments the person in your life who helped you see your own potential.

Warmly,

Donna

PS I love Calypso Rose’s music, and following the documentary I went home and downloaded her Best of Calypso Rose album and it’s my new work out music playlist! You can’t but help move when you are listening to it. Go to her website to hear her music and see clips from her documentary. I’d love to share the joy of Calypso Rose’s music with all of you!

53% of Women are Primary Breadwinners

53% of women are the primary breadwinners in their family according to a new study that just came out by Prudential last week. 30% said they earned more than their partners because of the economy. The same percentage said there had been a job loss in their household.

What this study underscores for me is just how dramatically things have changed for American families now that slightly more than half of the primary breadwinners are women. Women AND men need jobs and career pathways that enable them to support themselves and their families and provide them with unlimited potential. Many of these jobs can be found in the STEM professions.

Long gone are the days when women were considered to be taking away “men’s jobs,” it’s another era. In your opinion have STEM workplaces caught up with the new reality?

Science Cheerleaders

I recently came across the science cheerleaders site and I love it. They feature real-life cheerleaders who also happen to be scientists. One of the women they interview is an African-American surgeon-lawyer-cheerleader. And yes, as you can see, from the picture above, they are wearing the standard cheerleader outfits. What this website says to me is you can be a scientist and you can be sexy, if that’s what you choose.

Now, this website is going to drive some of my colleagues crazy. They will see this as exploitation and objectification of women. They would prefer the glorification of the geeky nerd girl.

Personally I LOVE geeky nerd girls, however I also love the science cheerleaders, and whether my colleagues like it or not, a lot of girls will identify with cheerleaders more than the nerd girls.

I want the biggest tent possible for including women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) – it’s about choice and potential – and if you have to choose to be a nerd girl to be a scientist a lot of young women will opt out. I like the idea of glamorous popular, sexy women scientists as role models and I love this website.

Becoming a female scientist in STEM should not be equal to being a nerd girl. If we ever want to significantly increase the number of women in STEM we will need to have ALL kinds of women joining the fold.

Recently, my longtime dentist, a woman of color, and mother of two, told me that maintaining her femininity has always been very important to her throughout dental school, and she never wanted to be one of the boys.

Lets have a tent large enough for all women to be in STEM – women who want to be one of the boys, nerd girls, cheerleaders, ALL women and girls should be able to work in a STEM career pathway, if they choose, without having to sacrifice their identity.

What do you think?

New IWITTS Facebook Page

IWITTS LogoIWITTS is just a few weeks into the launch of our new Facebook page and if you think closing the gender gap for women and girls in technology is important please “Like” Us by going to the page and clicking on the thumbs up icon on  top.

We only post once a day and there are many invaluable nuggets of information that we are passing on such as an article on female bioengineering students turning an everyday salad spinner into an anemia diagnosis tool for use in rural and economically under-developed regions of the world.

We’ll have many practical examples that educators can use for both recruitment and retention so don’t miss out!  We have over 100 likes already and we are hoping you can put us at 1000 by the end of the year!  Like us now!

For a more personal/insider look at IWITTS, I also invite you to Friend Me on Facebook.

Gender Diversity in STEM. Why Bother?

How does gender diversity benefit STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)?

A key goal in STEM education is “broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens–women and men, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities,” according to the National Science Foundation. Similarly, President Obama’s recently launched “Educate to Innovate” campaign cites, “expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls” as one of its three goals.

Why is gender diversity in STEM important? First, why do YOU think it’s important?, see our quick poll below with a $600 raffle prize (registration for a WomenTech Training).  I’d love your opinion.

Here’s why Donna Milgram thinks gender diversity in STEM is important.

The absence of women from STEM education and careers affects more than the women; it is a missed opportunity for those fields. Women bring a different perspective that shapes and influences STEM disciplines. Research shows that women — as a group — have a greater interest than males in how technology will be applied, in particular to help others, and women naturally have a greater understanding of what is important to and appeals to women.

Here are just two examples of how women in STEM enhance the field from a substantive perspective.

  • Dr. Bernadine Healy, the first woman to direct the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established a policy whereby the NIH would only fund clinical trials that included both men and women when the condition being studied affected both genders. Prior to this requirement, many NIH clinical trials did not include women, and subsequently research recommendations did not take into account the differing biology of women and men, and in some cases made recommendations harmful to women.
  • The Zimmer® Gender Solutions™ Knee, which was originally conceived of by a woman engineer. Nearly two-thirds of knee replacements in the U.S. are done on women; however, until the Gender Knee was developed the model for a knee implant was a male knee, which often did not fit the shape and size of women’s anatomy. The Gender Knee is specifically designed to fit the average woman and is a much more successful implant as a result.

Having more women in the picture will not only help women themselves — it will also help society benefit from their expertise — whether it’s ensuring women are included in clinical trials or developing a prosthetic knee that works better for women. We are all enriched when women fully contribute to the advancement of science and technology.


Take our One Question Poll – Why Women in STEM is Important?.

CalWomenTech Secrets to Recruiting & Retaining Women in STEM

Team members from CCSF and EVC CalWomenTech Sites receive WomenTech Hall of Fame Awards
Team members from CCSF and EVC CalWomenTech Sites receive WomenTech Hall of Fame Awards

This October, IWITTS held the third Project Partner Meeting of our NSF-funded CalWomenTech Project and two of the community colleges present were inducted into our WomenTech Hall of Fame!

Read on to find out how they achieved success …

Secrets to Recruitment Success — Computer Networking Program
The Computer Networking and Information Technology (CNIT) Program at City College of San Francisco went from a female enrollment baseline of 10.3% in 2007 to 36.1% in spring 2010.

Key strategies included:

  • Obtaining the buy-in of all CNIT instructors, counselors and career staff.
  • Putting up recruitment posters and tear-off flyers with female role models all over campus. A survey of enrolled female students showed these were the top two ways they learned about the program.
  • CCSF has a very large counseling staff with over 100 counselors. The Project key leaders made a presentation to all of the counselors at their monthly meeting, providing them with recruitment brochures and posters so they could assist with recruitment efforts. In fact, distribution of recruitment materials by counselors was written into CCSF’s annual strategic plan to ensure it has become a regular practice.
  • Learn more about CCSF in this case study.

Re-create CCSF’s success at your school with Ready-to-Use Recruitment Tools:

  • Our Outreach Kit based on the CalWomenTech Project, includes easy-to-customize recruitment materials.
  • Our Poster Sets feature female role-models working in seven different engineering or trades occupations.

Secrets to Retention Success – Automotive Technology Program
Evergreen Valley College of San Jose had a baseline retention rate for female students of 57.6% in 2008 that went to 100% for two nonconsecutive semesters. In the aggregate, the average female completion rate went to 88.3%, an increase of 30.7%. Male completion baseline was 61% – also low – and now the aggregate is 86.4%, an increase of 25.6%.

Key strategies included:

  • A change in culture from it’s okay if some students are “weeded out” to a more supportive environment where instructors focus their efforts on every student’s success.
  • Bringing female role models into the classroom to make presentations.
  • Teaching to female learning style as well as male.
  • Rewarding successful female completers with a “CalWomenTech Tool Scholarship” — an engraved professional wrench with a lifetime guarantee.
  • Visible support of female auto tech students in the classroom, where female and male students can view women in auto technology banners and posters in the classroom.
  • Learn more about EVC in this case study.

Here’s how you can achieve Evergreen’s success, too:

  • Attend our upcoming WomenTech training for educators in San Francisco to learn more about female learning style – sign up now for early-bird savings!

Need a Research-Based Blueprint for Recruiting Women?

This week I came across a well-organized and user-friendly resource that includes articles on women and gender and technology education — research that can help guide your efforts to recruit and retain women in your technology classrooms.

ATE Central is a freely available online portal and collection of materials and services that highlight the work of the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) projects and centers. These National Science Foundation-funded initiatives work with educators from two-year colleges to develop and implement ideas for improving the skills of technicians and the educators who teach them.

I included below a few studies that were new to me and might interest you, as well.

For more resources on recruiting and retaining women in technology classes, check out IWITTS Proven Practices Collection, which includes over 100 journal articles and proven practice case studies. Learn below how with our website redesign we’ve made this collection even easier for you to use.

Resources from ATE Central

Gender Differences in the Values of Minority High School Students that Affect Engineering Discipline Choice & Recommendations for Attracting Minorities to Environmental Engineering: Nine gender separated groups each attended the hour and a half session about environmental engineering and wastewater treatment. This paper details gender differences in the questions raised by students during the introduction to wastewater treatment session and suggests different ways to interest girls and boys in engineering.

Preparing Women and Minorities for the IT Workforce: The Role of Nontraditional Educational Pathways: This study examines the role of nontraditional educational pathways in preparing women and underrepresented minorities for the information technology (IT) workforce. It was sparked by the finding that the nation’s number one producer of bachelor’s degrees in information technology and computer science (IT/CS) was not a major research university, but instead was Strayer University, a for-profit institution with many campuses in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Not only was Strayer the top producer overall, but it also produced the largest number of women and African American graduates with baccalaureates in IT/CS.

Resources from IWITTS Proven Practices Collection

Our Proven Practices Collection provides educators a research-based blueprint for recruiting and retaining women and girls in the technology classroom. You’ll find hundreds of annotated journal articles and proven practice case studies.

The Collection is now tagged with keywords and organized by topic so you can quickly find what you need. Main topics include Recruitment and Retention, with ten retention sub-topics, including Learning Style and Spatial Reasoning.

We also added five new case studies from the CalWomenTech project which provide valuable insights into what individual programs did to work towards their goals of recruiting and retaining more women.

If you have any comments or questions about our IWITTS Proven Practices Collection, please leave your thoughts here.

New Careers for Mid-Life Women

By the time you read this, I will have turned the big “Five-O” on September 7th. 

As I mull over the new and great things I’d like to achieve in my fifties and beyond, I think about women who I look up to who just got going in their later years.  Cesária Évora, 70, one of my favorite singers, from Cape Verde, Africa, only launched her international career at age 47. Carmen Lamha, my co-Principal Investigator for the CalWomenTech Project, received her Master’s in Instructional Technology at age 49, and has talked of continuing on to get her PhD at 51.

I also think back to the 50 year-old woman — mother of five and on welfare — who attended a career development course I taught in the early 1980’s. A woman full of life, hope and courage, she decided to become a painter and became the first female to be admitted into the painter’s union apprenticeship program in Washington, DC.

For women, sometimes our greatest career accomplishments come at mid-life — after we’ve married or divorced, raised a family, or perhaps immigrated to the U.S.  And sometimes women embark on new careers only after they recognize the difficulty of making ends meet on the salary of the traditionally female jobs they’ve been working in for years.  

Older women often turn to community colleges to jumpstart their careers, so it’s important that educators send a message to these students in particular that all careers, including those in technology, are accessible to them.

For example, our Women in Construction Technology banner shows mid-life female role models.

Remember, everything that’s true about women in technology careers is multiplied three-fold for older women in the workplace: the need for help with building block skills, support, and encouragement.

In that vein, American Association of Community Colleges has developed a Plus 50 Initiative that “benchmarks and showcase the most current and innovative programs at community colleges to engage the 50+ learner”.  The website offers educators a variety of resources, including publications, webinars, practical tips, and more.

If you have any of your own resources or tips to share on mid-life women and technology careers, please feel free to post them here.  And for a humorous take on the challenges of a woman returning to the workforce after 30 years, this video is definitely worth a look.