It was 2001. I was a teenager at a technical high school in the Baltimore suburbs studying computer and networking technology. It didn't take long for me to look around and ask, like teenage boys are wired to do, "Where are all the girls?" There were none. What are the odds, right? Well, little did I know at the time, the odds were pretty good that I would seldom see the opposite sex in such a class or as I advanced through my collegiate and professional careers.
My perspective has changed a lot since those teenage years. Back then, I was bothered by the lack of females in a superficial "teenage boy" way. Now, with several years working in a technical field under my belt, I'm bothered by it in a real-world "this is a big problem for our society" way. In order for us to continue to be prolific innovators, we need to attract the best minds to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields -- and half of those minds belong to women. As we celebrate Women's History Month in March, I want to motivate more men to inspire and encourage the females in our lives to pursue classes and careers in STEM. And here are five ways we can do it:
1. Friendship. This one is for the fathers. As you can see from my experience, the gender gap begins younger than you might think, and the trend only continues to widen. Let's get ahead of it, let's encourage our girls to explore the areas of STEM at a young age. Make it fun. Take your daughter and her friends on a play date to the science museum. Encourage them to form a robotics team, make it a group activity instead of an individual chore. Keep it fun, and above all, make "tech" simple.
2. Respect. Show respect for a woman's technical credentials just as you would a man's. Accept them as equals. These women worked just as hard as men did to get to where they are. Give them the respect they've earned.
3. Individuality. To those who manage people in STEM, encourage collaboration wherever possible. It's important for teams to embrace the value of gender diversity in the workplace. What if Grace Hopper had never weighed in on the creation of the Mark I computer? There may not have been a computer or a place for me to publish this blog post!
4. Confidence. Oftentimes, men interpret a women's confidence in a technical subject area as intimidating or aggressive. Whether it comes from a man or a woman, confidence is confidence. Give women opportunities to lead and promote a results-oriented work environment. That way, everyone can compete fairly for promotions and growth opportunities without fear of prejudice.
5. Retention. If you're able to successfully attract women to a business where STEM is the core competency, ensure that your work environment is inclusive. It's important that women feel valued if you want them to stay. Make female talent attraction and retention a focus area for your teams.
We need women's perspectives in STEM just as much as we need men's. Being a man with awareness of this issue is half of the battle. Let's help to promote equality of genders in STEM. It starts with how we raise our daughters, and continues with the way we run our businesses. Let's encourage and inspire the next generation of #womenmakinghistory!
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