For too long, children were raised hearing the stereotype that boys are naturally better at math and science, while girls are better at language arts. Not surprisingly, that harmful stereotype led to a historical disparity in boys’ and girls’ achievement in the STEM fields.
It is vital that we take steps now, in our communities and beyond, to engage our budding women leaders while they’re young, so that they can acquire and strengthen the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills that will help them compete in the 21st century innovation economy. As a United States senator from New Hampshire and the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), we’re proud to be leading the way in helping provide girls and young women with the tools, training, and confidence-building skills they need to be experts in the STEM fields of today and tomorrow.
A commitment to getting more girls and women in STEM is needed in a big way. In our increasingly tech-driven world, our current generation and future generations of girls and young women must have the support they need to excel. We need more and better public/private collaborations to ensure that our youth develop the skills they will need to succeed.
Why We Need This
While gender achievement gaps in STEM fields have dramatically narrowed over the years, they have not fully been eliminated. Because there are comparatively fewer women in STEM — and even fewer who are prominent and publicized — girls might still have a hard time envisioning themselves professionally in these fields.
Together, we will keep working to equip today’s girls with what they need to become tomorrow’s leaders in whatever field they choose.
Research by the National Science Foundation found that while women receive bachelor's degrees in science and engineering at about an equal rate as men, when it comes to certain areas — computer sciences, engineering, and mathematics — women receive far fewer degrees (18 percent, 19 percent, and 43 percent respectively). And according to research by the Computing Technology Industry Association, 69 percent of women who have not pursued careers in information technology attribute their choice to not knowing what opportunities are available to them.
What We're Doing About It
Girl Scouts is combining the best of its legacy experiences — camping and other outdoor adventures, as well as the Girl Scout Cookie Program — with innovative programming in STEM, such as computer science, engineering, and cybersecurity, to ensure that the organization offers a relevant, one-of-a-kind experience for today’s girls.
Recently, Girl Scouts joined forces with next-generation security company Palo Alto Networks to deliver the first-ever national Girl Scout Cybersecurity badges for girls in grades K–12. We're also partnering with Raytheon to launch a groundbreaking national computer science program and “Cyber Challenge” competition for middle and high school girls. The program will prepare girls in grades 6–12 to pursue computer science careers, including in cybersecurity, robotics, data science, and artificial intelligence.
In the Senate, Sen. Hassan has focused on expanding and encouraging opportunities for women in STEM — including voting to support the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, which has been signed into law and will encourage the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women. The senator is also a cosponsor of the STEM Opportunities Act, which would work to improve the inclusion of women, minorities, and people who experience disabilities in STEM careers by breaking down barriers that have historically limited these underrepresented groups.
Together, we will keep working to equip today’s girls with what they need to become tomorrow’s leaders in whatever field they choose. But we can’t provide it alone. To truly effect meaningful change, we must reject old stereotypes and help all of our children recognize themselves as STEM leaders. Our girls, and our country, deserve nothing less.
Sen. Maggie Hassan is the former governor of New Hampshire and now represents the state in the U.S. Senate. Sylvia Acevedo is the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.
This op-ed solely reflects the views of the author, and is part of a larger, feminist discourse.