This weekend, over 400 teachers – from primary grades to high school – attended the 34th Annual Conference of the Greater San Diego Mathematics Council (GSDMC). I had the opportunity to connect with 30 teachers who stepped in to listen to my session: “Learn How to Promote STEM to Girls”.
Math teachers have always inspired me. They are a key pathway to many girls for introducing them to Engineering. This was my opportunity to assess just how much of the research the teachers knew on the factors that influence whether a girl enters STEM or not and to get their feedback.
The STEM research on women was new to a majority of the teachers. Fewer than 20% had heard about the impact of outdated stereotypes on test scores and in girls self-assessments, implicit biases, or on the need to develop spatial visualization skills. The best known research was on Growth Mindset – related to how we give praise – with 30% of the teachers having heard it before. The updated engineering messaging was new to virtually everyone.
The teachers were aware at just how well high school girl have been doing – girls have been out performing boys in overall math and science GPA and credit hours for over twenty years. But they were definitely surprised to hear that fewer than 5% of the over 1,000 parents I have presented the research to knew this fact. In the end, they appreciated the need to send the message that “both boys and girls are performing equally well in math and science” to both their students AND to the parents.
Recommendations from the educators:
- “Have film producers generate a movie or TV show of brilliant women engineers unravelling design failures.”
- Expand the session next year into a whole strand: provide the research and then integrate it with teachers providing concrete class room examples.
- More people need to hear the research: present it to more educators, school administrations, my entire department, high school students, college students, struggling students, girl scout troop leaders.
Inspired by the People you meet at Conference? Write about your experiences in the SWE Magazine.
The SWE Magazine is looking for 8 individuals – 4 Collegiate & 4 Working Professionals – to be paired up to meet other aspiring, enthusiastic engineers like yourself who are willing to have a quick “Coffee Table Conversation” at the #WE12 National Conference in Houston Texas about school, career, and life. Afterwards, all you need to do is write up your experiences and have it published in the SWE Magazine. Here is more information on the expectations and needs.
To sign up for your writing assignment, contact Debra.Kimberling@swe.org. I will be at the Ice Cream Social, 8pm, Wednesday November 7th to finalize the contacts and to get you started on your assignment.
Ever had to face a workplace issue you didn’t know how to handle? The Organizational Ombudsman (OO) may be just the resource you need(ed).
Next week I will introduce the legal expert in the field of OO, Charles Howard, during the SWE 2012 National Conference session “Building A Better Workplace Through the Organizational Ombuds”. If you will be in Houston Texas, I encourage you to come learn what an OO is, how they help, and where they fit in your company. Everyone deserves an expert who can coach them in a confidential and neutral manner to help navigate those tough workplace hurdles. The one hour session will be Thursday, November 8, 2012, 10am. Here are the presentation materials. To help us prepare, provide us with some of your toughest workplace issues you have faced by Taking this anonymous survey – results will be presented during the conference.
Sixty people were in attendance at my keynote address for the parents program at the tenth annual Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference held on USD campus – which is more than the forty parents who registered. Here are some comments from the program:
“I need to incorporate spatial skills training” – Hearing about the work of Mechanical Engineering Professor Sheryl Sorby in how female students often had a gap in their basic spatial skills training prompted an ah-ha moment for one middle school educator. Many of her students were having a difficult time visualizing the structure of DNA molecules. She realized this was likely due to their lack of spatial skills awareness. Her plan now is to incorporate spatial skills training to make the assignments easier to comprehend for all students.
“What about Alice?” – One parent commented on female engineering role models in the media, namely the Alice character in Dilbert. While Alice and her trailblazing “fist of death” shows a woman willing to literally plough through obstacles at work, the main point of bringing up Dilbert in the first place was to showcase the characterizations of engineering as an anti-social, dysfunctional, stereotypical nerdy engineer atmosphere. While the equity in including a female engineer in a cartoon is notable – I don’t think anyone would consider entering a STEM career based on Dilbert or Alice as role models. Thank goodness for organizations like EYH and SWE for showcasing venues to allow the girls to be paired up with the real life role models. That is the only way to dispell the nerdy myth.
“My daughter is a fighter” – After the event, one parent came up to me to introduce her daughter, Destiny, noting with a twinkle in her eye that ‘she was a fighter’. It was a strong commitment that she as a parent was not daunted by the research presented and believed her daughter would be successful in STEM. I asked Destiny – who was still charged from a day full of hands on activities from the EYH program – to bolster her chances in fighting well by taking debate. Debate is an excellent means to strengthen ones verbal skills and ability to present a convincing argument. If one is going to promote a project, defend a design, and negotiate in this world, one needs the ability to present a strong case for yourself or your team.
“Should I encourage my daughter into STEM knowing she definitely wants to start a family?” – Hearing the workplace research about why women leave engineering can be difficult to present to a parent audience. Many STEM careers require working long hours, some work environments are not as supportive as they could be. However, I would say that our American corporate culture is the one with the issue of not being family friendly. We as a nation need to do more to help women and men better balance work and family.
“All this effort to get girls into STEM is for naught unless there are special provisions for girls in college admissions to allow the increase in numbers”. I disagree. To reframe, the research shows that schools like Carnegie Mellon have been exceptionally effective in changing the percentages of women in their computer science department from 7% to 40% within a few short years simply by making minor changes to the departmental culture and policies. These incremental changes simply removed the barriers, stopped catering to one specific subgroup, and built up an inclusive environment. These incremental changes while good for the women proved equally good for men: retention numbers increased to nearly 100% for both genders.
“Two of the best engineers in my group are women. They bring an ability to think outside of the box”. This comment from a male parent is just one aspect of the value of diversity that helps corporations stay competitive.
Want Your Daughter to be an Engineer? Better Watch What You Say!
“Girls do as well as or better than boys in high school math and science and many of them are well prepared and hard working but would not consider a STEM career. Why? Maybe they are getting the wrong messages. Possibly even from you! Come learn from the latest research on why there are so few women in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (or STEM) and see what you as parent, educator, and employer can do. Come learn how early career choices are made, the threats girls pursuing STEM careers face, and how to change societal dialogue and behaviors that hinder girls in their pursuit of STEM careers. Hope to see you there.”
This is the new title and abstract to my keynote address for the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Parent-Educator Program, March 3rd 2012, where I will be presenting the latest research on women in engineering and the sciences. Traditionally this program has attracted about 70 parents to this 500 girl event. To bring in more parents and educators, the EYH organizers will be marketing the parent program for the first time. This new marketing approach was the inspiration for the title “Want Your Daughter to be an Engineer? Better Watch What Your Say!”. Time will tell if more parents stay to hear the research – instead of just dropping their daughters off – or if the new direct mailings to educators will entice them to spend a little time on a Saturday morning to hear the research. In any case, I look forward to presenting the latest material to the parents and to see if we can make inroads with the San Diego County educators.
Greater San Diego Math Council (GSDMC) – Signing Up
The GSDMC Conference will be Feb 4th – 5th, 2012. The organizers tell me the conference draws between 800 – 1000 participants – 1/3rd of which are pre-service teachers. They have several math-education key-note speakers and an entire extended focus section on STEM. The Why So Few? presentation seems like a natural fit.
A former educator – a father of three middle school daughters I met at one of the parents programs who just happens to work at the same company I do – recommended I check out this conference. I did. But a little late. Their conference schedule was filled by August. I am now on the ‘cancellation’ list. Should a speaking slot become open for Saturday Feb 5th – I will be there. Only time will tell.
As part of preparing for the “Why So Few?” presentation at the SWE National Conference , I gave the presentation twice at work on Oct 5th & 6th through the employee affinity groups. After the 60 minute session, I asked for essay style feedback. This is what they said:
- I wanted to hear the research and figure out ways I can improve the work environment.
- The bias group activity was very powerful.
- The research and awareness of biases allows me to be better prepared in addressing workplace conversations.
- More people need to become aware of the workplace biases and how institutions and individuals can take steps to reduce and remove them.
- I will look to be more of a mentor for new women engineers.
- I am more aware of the factors that can improve the working environment – environmental factors – that contribute to a woman’s sense of inclusion and satisfaction
- I will push for more teamwork recognition – a value that is essential to a woman’s satisfaction and part of our values in action – yet may not be as widespread in the work place as it could be.
- I like the part on likability vs competance.
- I will acknowledge the importance of listening and applauding the work done to stay likable.
- I appreciated the emphasis on having clubs and affinity groups to help women have a better sense of fit and acceptance
- While this presentation is primarily for recruiters and managers, it made me more aware of my interactions with others. I will be more careful with how I talk with and interact with people and how I describe them.
- I learned that most women are harder on themselves when competing against men. I thought it was just me!
- I recommend this presentation because while the topics covered seemed like common sense, people generally don’t take the time to think about them directly.
- I wanted up to date information on why there are so few women engineers.
- I have a better awareness of the challenges women face in the workforce and feel better prepared how to handle them.
- The presentation was full of data-based research on the reasons why engineering careers have not been popular with women
- I really liked the research behind how parents portray engineering to their daughters and the mindset message
- I think it is sad we have to try this hard to get females involved in STEM. Society is largely responsible for the situation more than anything else. What we can do is weak compared to mass media. Despite these facts, I think the research and effort in this area is needed. Hopefully, one day we will not need to ask “why so few?”
- When coaching my children, I will use the material about steretotypes and growth mindset.
- I will actively practice the important message of growth learning (vs static learners)
- I really enjoyed the topic of growing knowledge and positive reinforcement that goals can be achievied
- Appreciated the whole aspect of the growth model – rather than just being born with a set amount of intelligence.
- My daughter wants to study engineering and am looking for female engineering mentors. I will use the material to foster STEM careers with girls I interact with.