We are entering what is widely referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution, an era where the development of new materials, breakthroughs in the field of genetic engineering and digital transformation are increasingly blurring the lines between the physical, biological and digital worlds.
With multiple industries being disrupted, those without the relevant skills for the future workplace stand to be at risk. The bad news is that women are likely to be disproportionately negatively impacted, according to a World Economic Forum study. One key reason is because that they are relatively under-represented when it comes to jobs which are expected to have the most growth in the next five years in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematical) professions.
Diversity and inclusion is widely recognized as important competitive strengths. This also means there is tremendous opportunity for women to play a central role in driving innovation and progress.
According to a list of the Most Promising Jobs of 2017 published by LinkedIn, the top 20 occupations require STEM skills. Despite the opportunities, though, there remains a persistent gender gap. Globally, UNESCO estimates that only about 3 in 10[i] researchers in science, technology and innovation are female while LinkedIn estimated that women account for only about 2 in 10 tech jobs.[ii]
What could be deterring more girls and young women from entering a field that offers the skills and knowledge that could change the world? Here are four common misperceptions:
Myth #1: STEM education only matters at higher education levels.
In reality, STEM is an interdisciplinary approach towards educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rather than teach them as separate subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning model based on real-world applications.[iii]
Increasingly considered a fundamental skill for a basic education and a job, STEM also opens doors for young women to higher education and exciting jobs. A path in STEM could pave the way to a wide spectrum of degree fields including Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Solar Energy Technology and Robotics Technology.[iv] On a more fundamental level, learning STEM subjects provides critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will be needed across all jobs of the future.
Myth #2: STEM skills are only useful for STEM jobs.
In a technology-driven world, a vast majority of jobs require STEM skills in one form or another. Globally, companies and organizations are also evolving the way they operate and do business. Part of that evolution involves recruiting key talent – men and women with the mental agility to help businesses succeed.
For girls and young women pursuing a path in STEM, the critical thinking and problem-solving skills developed will be highly sought after in the economy of the future. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that a third of future jobs across all industries will require problem-solving skills. Armed with fresh perspectives, new ideas and complex problem-solving skills, women are set to drive change in big ways.
Myth #3: STEM is boring and doesn’t involve creativity.
In a Mastercard survey of approximately 1,500 girls from across the Asia Pacific region between 12 and 19 years of age, 84 per cent indicated creativity as a desirable trait but only 43 per cent associated girls in STEM with this quality.[v]
Thus, encouraging children to use their creativity is crucial. When asked what she thinks of studying science and technology subjects and to describe the application of her dreams, 12-year-old Bhornpailin Chunkasut replied, “I like to study science because I can use my imagination and invent new things which are beyond what I have been taught in classroom. If I could create anapplication, I would create an app that can help deaf people protecting themselves from any danger or accident. Symbols will be used instead of sound. The application will be developed on eyeglasses, which will be tailor-made for them. For example, the sound of a car horn would trigger a red car icon that appear as pop up icon on the glasses. This will help them become aware of the cars nearby and enable them to avoid car accidents.”
Myth #4: Men are more likely to succeed in STEM fields than women.
Unfortunately, gender stereotypes exist and perpetuate even in the modern world today. With access to the right technology, education and opportunities, women have the power to challenge perception and chart new paths into the future.
Nattanicha Pattramalai, one of many women excelling in a tech career and the founder of non-profit organization Girls Who Dev, which supports and inspires Thai women of all ages to work in the tech industry, shared her experiences inIT : “In the IT world, there are more men than women. The number of women working in this industry is relatively small, and some don’t even have the courage to set foot into this field as they have a perception that IT is all about men. Girls Who Dev would like to inspire and encourage every woman who dreams of pursuing a career in IT, and we would like to see the IT industry open widely for women with no limits or boundaries.”
Siriporn Pajharawat, Director of Developer Experience & Platform Evangelism (DX) Group, Microsoft Thailand said “Women’s equal representation in the technology industry, and in all STEM fields, is not only a matter of fairness. Our economies and our societies lose out when we fail to engage half of the world’s brainpower in our engines of innovation. This trend will continue if we don’t invest our time, energy and resources in a number of key areas. To that end, we started a movement last year to inspire girls, as well as the parents, educators and nonprofits who encourage and support them, to #MakeWhatsNext.”
There is no better time than on International Women’s Day to celebrate diversity and the incredible potential of women and girls to make an exponential impact in the world. Through initiatives that provide support and opportunities in computer science and technology, we hope to inspire girls with courage and a huge dose of creativity to go beyond prescribed boundaries to #MakeWhatsNext, today.
For more inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSCreWQTdoM
[i] UNESCO http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/priority-areas/gender-and-science/
[ii] 2016 LinkedIn Workforce Diversity Report https://careers.linkedin.com/diversity-and-inclusion
[v] Mastercard “Girls in Tech” research http://newsroom.mastercard.com/asia-pacific/press-releases/parents-are-crucial-influencers-for-girls-pursuing-stem-careers/