I had the chance to deliver the opening keynote talk at the NG HealthCare US Summit two weeks ago. I was to fit a 20 minute talk between the salad and the entree at a dinner. The summit organizers said I could talk about whatever topic I wanted; I just had to be inspiring.
I titled my talk: “Our Future Workforce – Unlocking the Potential”. As I posed the problem in a recent post “Technology, where are all the women?,” I talked about the fact that not enough women are going into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. I have been particularly concerned with the drop in women entering computer related fields.
Why does this problem exist, what are some of the programs that are helping address it, and what can IT leaders do about it?
The IT leadership conference where I was speaking was about 75-80% men, so I thought there might be a risk with this angle on the future workforce. I am happy to say the talk was very well received.
Afterwards, men talked to me about their daughters – whether they are in college studying in a STEM field or in grade school interested in computers and robots. Women told me about their own career stories and their daughters. And one of the vendors from a large technology firm described their extensive program to encourage women in STEM fields. It was all very encouraging.
One woman told me about her sixth grade daughter. She had chosen computer programming for an elective this semester. But after a few weeks, when the mother checked in to see how it was going, her daughter had switched electives to a community work project with her teacher instead. The mother thought that was a good thing too and didn’t pursue it further. She told me that my talk had inspired her to find out why the switch away from computer programming. She suspected the class was focused on gaming and aimed at boys. I hope she finds out. And I do hope she continues to encourage a science interest in her daughter.
I’m encouraged by the interest in science in my own extended family. I have 3 grand nieces and 3 grand nephews. They range in ages from 3 to 12. I buy a book for each of them for Christmas every year. As they grow, I keep up with their interests so I can buy the very best book for them.
This year, I’m happy to learn that all three girls are interested in science.
The 6th grader wants to be a meteorologist. I have given her the National Geographic Kids Almanac every year. The 2015 version is on its way to her.
The 1st grader is reading well beyond her grade level and wanted a “chapter” book. Her mom asked if I could find any books that would “plant the seeds for girls with math, science, and girl power stuff”. I was delighted to hear this request. For chapter books, I found the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park – lot of girl power stories I’m told! For science, I found a book called “Hello From 2030 – The Science of the Future and You” by Jan Paul Schutten.
The third girl is in kindergarten and wants to be a scientist. She is getting a different Junie B. Jones chapter book and the same “Hello From 2030” book as her first grade cousin.
And then there’s my own granddaughter who just turned two. She is obsessed with robots, calling them “bobots”. I have to shop in the boys departments to find robot T-shirts for her. I have found a lot of robot toys, but most are for age 3 and up. But I did find a book that I hope will pique her interest for many years to come: “Robots” from the TIME For Kids Explorers Series. It is full of pictures that she’ll enjoy looking at even if she doesn’t fully understand them yet. I look forward to sitting with her and looking at the “bobot” pictures together.
If we need more women in the STEM fields, we have to start young and encourage one girl at a time. I am glad to see it happening in my family.