You Have To Not Give Up
An Interview With Girls Inc. of Santa Fe
While it may seem that all doors are open to women these days, and have been for a while now, the numbers show there are still barriers, and there is still work to be done and ground to be made up after decades of women being directed either overtly or indirectly away from the sciences.
According to a new push by Microsoft called #MakeWhatsNext aimed at getting more girls involved at a young age in STEM fields, "only 6.7% of females graduate with STEM degrees vs. 17% of men, meaning men are 2.5 times more likely to enter these high paying fields." According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women currently hold less than 25% of STEM jobs. And, globally, only 16% of female students graduate from STEM subjects, according to the World Economic Forum.
Recently, we partnered with Girls Inc. of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and their Operation Smart program, to sit down and talk to our youngest girls about the sciences and their views on STEM fields. Girls Inc. is an organization that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Their comprehensive approach to whole girl development equips them to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. One of their many programs, Operation SMART, develops girls' enthusiasm for skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Through hands-on activities, they explore, ask questions, persist, and solve problems. We are 100% behind programs like Operation Smart and believe it so important because it allows girls to view all of the many careers as exciting and realistic options for themselves.
When we had the opportunity to sit down with the girls, the results were almost exactly the opposite of what one might have expected going into the conversation. According to them, most boys in their classes tend to do more poorly in science and math than the girls, and even tend to let — or make, depending on who's talking — them do most or all of the work on group science projects.
Astrid, a shy 7, likes science and says she wants to grow up to be a marine biologist. Julia, also 7, likes math and chemistry and wants to be an artist. Evelyn, 8, says she likes all kinds of science and wants to study animals. Destiny, 14, likes the human sciences and is considering the health field, while Megan, also 14, likes STEM altogether and is considering environmental or biomedical engineering.
"One of my favorite things about the human sciences is how when you learn about the body you could focus on just the heart and you could focus on it for your whole lifetime because you can always learn new things."
Destiny, Age 14
"I love all sciences and really want to work with animals."
Evelyn, Age 11
"Scientifically, women do have different perspectives on how different things in our lives function, so we bring a different viewpoint. It also helps because they have different ideas that can contribute to everything."
Megan, Age 14
The schools along with Girls Inc. are clearly are doing a great job introducing them to STEM, with all of them reciting a litany of past science projects covering a full spectrum of fields, from seeing what happens when you feed a mint plant Pepsi (it starts to smell like Pepsi instead of mint, apparently) to seeing how much of one's fingerprints are passed down from parents (some, but not all) and more.
"I don't like boring science projects," Megan said.
And the girls all saw the intrinsic value of having women be more involved in the STEM fields, both because anyone should be free to do whatever she or he wants to and because having male and female viewpoints can both contribute to addressing issues better than having just one.
Interestingly, none of the girls seemed to feel any pressure away from the sciences — in fact, they all said they could see themselves going into a STEM field as adults — but they also acknowledged that they were not necessarily typical of their classmates. Many of their female classmates were perhaps more interested in the latest viral internet sensation than in science, but they also all said that the females in their classes were by and large better than their male counterparts at math and science.
"I want to be a Marine Biologist because I love sea creatures."
Astrid, Age 7
"I like chemistry because you can mix different ingredients together and see what it does."
Julia, Age 8
"My friends are mainly guys and they just come to my group so that I do all the work," Destiny said. "Now I make them do it; I make them do the work."
"They're so happy when they're in my group," Megan said. "They get yelled at more often for messing around in the lab. The girls rarely ever get yelled at, because they're not messing around and they do their work on time. They also get way better grades in science."
As great a job as the schools are doing at introducing girls to science and math, though, there's clearly also room for improvement in nurturing that spark and protecting it from the other kids who call them nerds and pressure them to help them with their homework, or do it for them. One of the girls said there were "only like five kids interested in math" at her school, and the other children, "they like yell, 'Hey, nerd, come over here and help me with my math problem.'"
"It doesn’t feel good," she said. "It feels like they want A's, but they don't deserve them."
The older girls, Destiny and Megan, though, were beacons of hope and experience for the younger girls, telling them that much of that changes and falls away by the time they get older. The same things happened to them when they were younger, but in the higher grades, they said, the people who do that are looked down on, and the academically inclined students are far more accepted.
"You have to not give up," Megan said, "because it will change."
That's a sentiment that we found echoing throughout every story in this quarter's issue, the need to not give up and the importance of determination and perseverance. It's a lesson we can all take to heart.