In my first post, I wrote about the importance of the words we choose as we speak to students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
Today, I focus more specifically on two words that can address the woeful lack of women willing to pursue careers in STEM:
I know what you're thinking: "Two words? Given all the research and rhetoric about the complexities of attracting women into STEM careers, it's going to take more than two words to solve this."
You're right. These two words alone will not solve the dearth of women choosing to participate in STEM fields.
On the other hand, these two words, when understood and leveraged in the right way, are essential to empowering women who are determined to overcome the subtle and overt biases that militate against their decision to pursue a STEM career.
Because of these biases, unless young girls have a strong role model or mentor, they may feel excluded, by virtue of their gender, from the STEM disciplines.
These two words serve as an invitation to bright and talented young women to follow their passion, wherever it may lead them, to make a difference in this world.
Here is why these two words are so powerful:
1. YOU MATTER is Affirming
These words are not a statement of inspiration; they are a statement of value. There is a difference between being admired for what you know, and being valued for who you are. Young woman need to know they are essential in STEM fields, and essential in the world.
2. YOU MATTER is Vision Casting
Young women are on a journey. They are figuring out who they are and where their place is in this world. These two words are an investment in this process, casting a clear vision for their future and potential.
3. YOU MATTER is a Call to Action
When we tell a young woman that she matters, we are inviting her into a life of service and action. Leadership is hard work and it comes with real responsibility. We help young leaders grow when we give them both, by telling them that they matter, and are accountable for it.
I assure you that the young women I meet are not only ready for any challenge that comes before them, but are also ready to do significant work.
These young women are prepared to emulate leaders such as:
- Yaya Lu, a 16 year-old Australian girl who just presented a paper on a voice-controlled wheelchair to a biomedical engineering conference in Bangkok;
- Vi Hart, a "recreational Mathematician" who artfully and whimsically demonstrates mathematical principles in a series of YouTube videos that have drawn millions of viewers, many of them teenage girls; and
- The women from England who garnered 67,000 votes on this picture on Reddit of "myself and all the other girls in my Physics Degree course throwing our hats in the air for graduation."
If we want the future generation of female engineers, scientists, mathematicians and leaders in the field of technology to simply think in terms of "What am I supposed to do to earn my paycheck?" then the old approach is fine.
However, if we want to unleash a new generation of fierce and determined women who ask as they enter the workforce, "How are we going to change the world?" then we need young woman to know they matter.
Once they know this, they are ready to take ownership of that responsibility and focus their talents and contributions on creation and innovation.
These are two distinctly different futures for young women and the world.
Which future do you want to promote?