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Troubleshooting The Need For More Girls In STEM

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Over the past few months our team has been laser-beam focused on how we get more young women into STEM careers. In our travels we have been gleaning so many perspectives of what motivates girls and why they drop out. We have spoken to Government officials, campaign managers, top women in corporate America, interns from high schools and our own kids. Each conversation has led me personally to another book on amazon or an investigative report added to my Google drive.

Don't know what STEM is? You're not alone and that's part of the challenge. It's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math...skills needed for the workforce today and where the best jobs are.

It's all around you, everywhere. It's the skills gap in America and the need to hire more engineers from overseas. It's Apple and the next iPad application, its manufacturing robotics healthcare and using computers to monitor patients and save lives.

The bottom line is that it is well documented that girls seem to disengage at a young age only (13 percent of high school girls plan to pursue STEM careers), in college, and over 50 percent leave STEM careers. We learned so much from this NCWIT report.

The opportunity and the imperative is that STEM careers pay much better, it's where the economy is going and over 71 percent of jobs or more will require STEM skills.

This is not something we as women, fathers, girls, brothers, friends and industry can turn a blind eye to.

A renowned CEO said recently on a panel that the 'old boys' network will phase out and things will be different. This doesn't align with Sheryl Sandberg being the only female member of an all male board at young company Facebook and Marissa Mayer being essentially an anomaly for top CEOs in our country, at Yahoo.

A young progressive male CEO shared with me that out of every 100 resumes for his 12 million dollar IT company only one is submitted from a female. They were considering an affirmative action model, for women! Is this the 50's? Does every company HR exec need their recruiting 'binders of women'?

I was sharing with two incredibly talented women in tech that when I worked at a Startup IT company last year, I met with a young man two years out of Yale who wanted to speak with me and discuss college marketing outreach.

After 15 minutes he started shaking visibly and I asked him if something was wrong? "I am sorry, it's just this is the longest meeting I have been in since my review," he said.

"Wow! You're not in Kansas anymore, Julie," I realized. The two women laughed and said they could have predicted the story I shared from their own experiences.

He, like many tech and STEM workers both male and female find their stride being in flow, uninterrupted, autonomous, collaborating through email and Lync or a similar platform. Success is innovation and doing the job well. Computer based calls on Google chats and Skype welcomed if planned. Figuring things out, tinkering, parallel play.

Mars & Venus author John Gray talks about men being in their caves and women being more comfortable in a flea marketplace setting, sharing ideas, connecting, collaborating, learning, executing.

Are STEM cultures designed well for the man in the cave model (think Wall-e)? Are women isolated and missing social opportunities and team environments that are at the root of their biological beings? Are the caves too confining and the ping-pong tables now in tech hallways just a place to chuck another bean bag chair and an interned laptop? I can weigh in and say, thank goodness for the Crepe place down the street and my two female co-workers that joined me for lunch weekly. That was a big part of my career satisfaction and sanity.

Can we bottle the essence and learning of the Women in STEM who have found hybrid solutions (cave, marketplace, cave, marketplace, spa!) and fulfilling careers?

We are sure going to try! In a few months we will launch Million Women Mentors in a collaborative cave meets marketplace strategy with many stakeholders I will write much more about in the coming weeks.

The goal is to move the needle of young girls pursuing STEM degrees, staying in the workforce and understanding that women and men in STEM careers that have carved out their place again have custom-built great, fulfilling jobs.

We are working hand in hand with National Girls Collaborative Project, MentorNet, NPower, and more to invite mentors from entrepreneurial companies, Fortune 500's, Government and Higher Ed to show girls and young women the viable and awesome career opportunities available in STEM -- where one can both be in your cave and engaging in meaningful collaboration with your team and mentors. Early founding supporters include TCS, Cisco, Accenture and Wal-mart.

But let's start right here, right now. If you are a woman or a man in STEM, connect this week with a young woman, your alma mater, your daughter or your niece and share with them 10 things you love about your STEM career and guide them on what their options are in STEM pathways. Weigh-in in the comments below so we can learn from you!

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