Only 24 percent of women work in the STEM careers.
Science, technology, engineering and math advocates kicked off National Mentoring Month in a big way on Wednesday as they launched the Million Women Mentors (MWM)initiative, with the goal of using mentorship to educate and empower women and girls to pursue careers in STEM.
The initiative was created by STEMconnector to match women and girls aspiring to pursue STEM degrees and careers with successful mentors who have already reaped success in their chosen STEM fields.
"Mentor duty should be the next jury duty here in America," STEMconnector's Chief Partnership Officer Julie Kantor said at the MWM program launch at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
She indicated that it is not only necessary to mentor women and girls in STEM subjects, but it is also important to sponsor women in these fields. "Sponsoring means making face-to-face introductions that can lead to other opportunities in the STEM sphere," Kantor said.
While women earn an average of 75 cents for each dollar their male counterparts earn in most fields, women in STEM careers earn 92 cents to the dollar, Edie Fraser, director of STEMconnector, pointed out. "STEM is the gateway to meaningful careers," she said.
STEM skills are likewise critical for both girls and boys who hope to have any chance of landing a job in the future. STEMconnector data shows that "80 percent of the fastest growing occupations in the United States depend on mastery of mathematics and scientific knowledge and skills."
"Over the next decade the need for tech and STEM skills will explode," Jorge Benitez, Accentures Managing Director of North America, said during the Million Women Mentors launch.
But while many agree that STEM will be the future of the working world, only 13 percent of girls say they plan to pursue a career in STEM, Fraser said. And while women make up nearly half of the workforce, only 24 percent of STEM workers are women.
Enter MWM. Using the power of mentorship, MWM intends to raise the percentage of girls planning to pursue a career in STEM fields to 20 percent, and to increase the number of women actually working in STEM as well.
"We have the responsibility as a country to move the needle on girls and young women in STEM careers from 24 percent of our current workforce to 50 percent," said Fraser.
How will these mentors defy these statistics and assist women in assuming their place in STEM fields?Cisco's vice president of America Field Marketing, Patrice D'Eramo, says the answer lies in passion and commitment.
"We need to make sure people get passionate about STEM. They need to get curious about what technology means," D'Eramo said. She also said mentors should help these women remain devoted to the STEM fields and stick with the sometimes challenging work.
"Through mentors and sponsorship we can not only show these women what the STEM opportunities are, but we can make sure they become leaders, become successful, and that they contribute to our society and our future," D'Eramo added.
MWM initiative has already partnered with more than 40 non-profit, media, education and government industry representatives, as well as nine corporate sponsors.
"As a proud founding partner of MWM, nothing is more important than mentoring and supporting girls and women into STEM careers, especially in the undeserved communities," Karen Peterson, President and CEO of National Girls Collaborative Project, said in a statement. "We are thrilled to work in more than 1,400 communities with more than eight million girls."
Abidali Neemuchwala, head of business process services at Tata Consultancy Services, said that he couldn't understand why businesses and other organizations wouldn't want to be a part of a movement like MWM. "It's just good business to be able to support women," Neemuchwala said.
He also emphasized the necessity of mentoring women returning to workforce after raising children. "Providing a platform for women to come back into mainstream careers after they have taken time off for contributing to their family is a huge accelerator for women to become successful professionals, CEOs and board members," he said. "Mentors help these women come back into the mainstream and bring them up to speed."