Is STEM still a four letter word for women?

imgresI can’t help but look back at my own education when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  I was asked by Ravishly to write something about the question is STEM still a four letter word for women.  Here are my thoughts.

My parents were definitely not concerned or particularly interested in my education.  They trusted that I would just figure it out.  I was smart and I had to find my own way.  Not exactly what I would recommend as a parent myself but I had no choice.

I was always good at Math and actually enjoyed Science.  The apple did not fall from the tree so in many ways it is not shocking that I gravitated towards both of those subjects in 7th grade because they came easy.  My education at this point had not exactly been geared towards anything.  I spent both 5th and 6th grade at an elementary school that was trying out a new type of education.  It was based on pods.  There were a group of teachers so there was little structure if any.  Projects were set up around the open space for self-starters.  I was always a self-starter who could figure a way to get around anything so I became the tether ball and spit (card game) champion.  I basically ignored all other learning activities and so when I did get to 7th grade, in a typical junior high school structured environment I did not even know what a verb or noun was.  I kid you not.  The school separated me from the English class I was in and put me in a room of below average thinkers.  It took me about one month to crawl my way out and then I was moved into the smartest English class although I still suffered (and still do) for lack of that English training.

In Science and Math I excelled.  I was noted as the top science student in 7th grade and was sent with all the 8th and 9th graders to spend a day at the National Science event in DC.  It was a pretty big deal.  In Math I just flew through the work and loved it.  Fast forward, nobody at home really gave me pats on the back for this and by 9th grade I was lucky if I made it to Science class.  Math was always a slam dunk and I enjoyed it.   I remember taking a short course on computer programming (part of the math curriculum) and thinking this is so cool but there were just a few geeky guys who took over and I just let it go at that. By the time I got to high school I was concentrating on juggling three jobs which I took to easily.  I owned them, I made money and it gave me purpose.

The rest of my high school education is pretty much a blur. Perhaps if I had a mentor or someone who took me under their wing when it came to Math and Science then things would have turned out differently.  I just did not see the importance of Math and Science at that point.  I was interested in business and business only.  I knew I had a head for it and it was a ticket to bigger things.

Kids k-12 these days understand the importance of learning technology.  I believe people should follow their passions.  I had a passion for Math but nobody set me in that direction.  Not so sure if I had a passion for anything except for making money than expanding my brain and with that my horizons.  I read books like a fiend but otherwise that was my own education.  I didn’t get much direction but eventually I figured it out.

We are seeing more organizations make sure that they become those mentors to young women through Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Develop It, Skillcrush and Webgrrls just to name a few.  It is fantastic.

So, is STEM still a four letter word for women?  Absolutely not.  S can also be for seeing their future, T can be for the importance of understanding technology at any level, E can be the importance of education, end of story and M can be the importance of mastering the language of technology.

I still believe you have to have passion for it and if you do, stick with it because STEM levels the playing field and that is the key to a better future for women.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan Rubinsky

    Thank you for adding your personal story to this. I think I took that same computer class as you in high school. It was me plus a bunch of geek boys sitting around learning BASIC on Apple IIe’s, LOL. I recall feeling the same thing, that there was the power to do anything with computers.I think the lack of direction you experienced was part of the overall culture at the time. My parents were utterly uninvolved; once I turned 18 I was expected to move out and get a job. I recall my guidance counselor telling me I should be a teacher or a nurse. This was in the early 1980’s. When I asked why the guy told me that those were girl careers. I remember being really angry about that. I took my own path. There were no mentors. You just had to learn how to shut out the naysayers.A lot really has changed since then, though too slow for me. Cultural shifts take a long time to get to their tipping point.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Definitely a sign of those days

  2. JimHirshfield

    Thanks for sharing your experience; very insightful. My univ. engineering class was split fairly evenly M/F, so I didn’t really see women being treated (mentored or guided) differently than men. But I’m sure it happened, especially in high school, which in my recollection was a complete sh!t show regarding career guidance.

  3. Scarlett Sieber

    Thank you for sharing your childhood story. My childhood education was not much different than yours, I was smart and had to figure it out on my own. Like you, the computer class was full of “nerdy” boys and none of the teachers encouraged the female students to participate (and this was in 2005). Embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even know what engineering was until I got into college. I love all the work that is being done now to encourage young girls to get excited about STEM and I have noticed a difference speaking with my younger cousins but I think we have a long way to go (especially in the more rural areas like where I grew up).

  4. Sim

    Thanks for your post Joanne. I loved maths until the age of about 15, when I had a horrible and punitive teacher. As for computer skills, I’ve stumbled through it over the years. I’m 30 now, and inspired and excited about tech. As a kid, it didn’t get much focus. I kinda wish it did.Tech is forming the future. A big reason I steered into this industry is to be a part of this formation. There’s got to be diversity in tech; We’ve got to build this future together. Access to STEM education for all kids (and adults!) is super important, for sure.The following vid was posted on Twitter by Sean Reed, founder of the non-profit Alliance For Girls in STEM. They’re doing good things over there.

    1. Gotham Gal

      i have literally seen four different movies pass my desk about women in tech. it is great!

  5. pointsnfigures

    Ha, I so wanted to get into computers back in 1980 and had no idea of what path to take to get to it. No one really knew about them.We exposed both our girls to science etc. Some people are wired that way, and some aren’t. I think it’s important to teach coding to everyone just like we do English-because coding is just another language. Artists can code. Problem is, very few people can teach coding well.I think more so than STEM, we need to teach kids how to think like entrepreneurs. Problem solve. Sticktoitiveness. STEM is certainly a big part of that.

  6. Lauren Moores

    Great post and like others who have responded, I had a similar experience with pods, relearning and a Calc AP teacher who didn’t think girls should be in his class. As someone who now thrives on being a data and tech nerd, I love the emphasis on STEM and the emerging organizations that allow us to participate in paying forward to the future.

  7. LE

    With your strength in math and interest in business it seems Wharton would have been a natural choice. No question that you would have been able to be groomed and would have been accepted – then you could have gone into finance or any number of different fields.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Instead I was Fred’s side kick while he went to Wharton. 🙂