By: Janice Urbanik
As I write this, it is “back to school time” again – and who among you don’t LOL when Staples airs its back to school commercials to the tune of “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? It makes me laugh every time I see them. So, what does this mean for this blog? Well, it means it’s a new school year-a chance to start fresh and learn all kinds of new things, and a chance to once again ignite in girls (and women alike) a passion for learning about STEM. And because of two design projects that are being done under the guidance of Design Impact, it is also a time for me to eagerly look at projects and initiatives with new eyes to gain new insights. So, IMHO, this is indeed the most wonderful time of the year!
What can we learn in the coming year?
Let’s take a step back and look at some numbers:
- 2-3% - the percent of construction trades positions filled by women in our region
- 7-10% - the percent of manufacturing positions filled by women in our region
- 15% and 17% - the percent of tech positions at Facebook and Google, respectively, filled by women
- 56.8% - the labor participation rate of women 16 years and older. This is the lowest rate since October 1988. The comparable number for men is 69.2% (a nearly 22% difference)
- 66% - the percent of children in poverty who are in single female headed households
- 430,000 – the number of people in our region whose income is below 200% of the Federal poverty level for a family of four (this is the generally accepted benchmark for economic self-sufficiency)
The number that jumps off the page to me is the labor participation rate. Just over half of half of our population is participating in the labor force? And, the 56.8% who are participating in the labor force are in jobs that tend to not pay as well as STEM careers, which then leads to the poverty statistics shown above. Why, after so many years of trying to get more women and girls into STEM, are women so underrepresented?
The IT field is finally starting to address this. A recent article talks about the demographic data from Facebook and Google showing the preponderance of white and Asian males in their workforce. This article discusses how even well-meaning programs intending to attract girls to coding and other IT occupations tend to reinforce female stereotypes by providing underchallenging projects that are focused on beauty and caregiving and not hard-core technology. The article also profiles other programs who are providing challenging experiences for the girls that will prepare them for possible future careers in IT.
In earlier blogs, I have shared the Raise the Floor program at Gateway Community and Technical College, which is intended to increase the number of women in manufacturing. A great program has been created, employers are at the table, jobs are available…. and still... it has been a challenge to recruit and retain women in this program. Why?
How do we finally crack this nut?
In the spirit of seeing problems through new eyes to gain new insights, I am very hopeful for two projects being guided by Design Impact. One of the projects is intended to take a two-generational approach to attract more women into manufacturing and help their children be exposed to STEM careers. The Ascend Fund from the Aspen Institute has generously provided funds to assist in this project. Maybe, finally, we can learn from women themselves, about the barriers that prevent them from going into manufacturing, or IT, or construction. And… what will it take for them to encourage their children to consider those careers?
The other design effort is focused on influencing parents to influence their children to consider technical careers. These careers are STEM careers and range from skilled trades to those requiring a 4 year or higher degree. As we have been conducting focus groups with parents, we seem to be finding that parents who do not have a 4 year degree are primarily interested in helping their children find jobs with stability, in whatever field or occupation. Parents with 4 year degrees themselves seem to be highly focused on helping their children get a 4 year degree first, and to then find an occupation that interests them.
Lastly, the Community Impact team at the United Way recently received introductory training on Community Organizing by Liz Blume at the Community Building Institute at Xavier University. One of the biggest takeaways I had from the training was the insight of “getting to scale” HAS to be about empowering communities with the resources to control their own destiny”. So, the a-ha here is that to take things to scale, or have big community impact, you have to go small, i.e. at a neighborhood level. You have to move from focusing on neighborhood needs to focusing on neighborhood assets, i.e. the resources that can be deployed to control destiny.
This was a real mind-bender for me…and exciting. Perhaps we have been thinking about getting more women and girls into STEM the wrong way. Maybe we need to take a new approach – a neighborhood approach?
This truly is the most wonderful time of the year. I am hopeful that new approaches will yield new and powerful and transformative outcomes for our region. This is also my last blog for the CRC. I have absolutely enjoyed doing these and have been humbled by the comments of the readers. Thank you for the opportunity to spend a bit of time on your computer screen with you. It has been an honor.