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Finally, A Man Who Gets It!

Earlier this month Stanford University President John Hennessey gave an insightful speech (link) in which he noted four significant challenges that prevent women from pursuing STEM careers.

This speech stood out from current dialogues on women and STEM for two reasons. First, Hennessey correctly identified the years of early adolescence as those when girls need the most encouragement in STEM, stating, “Our system is broken somewhere between middle school and high school”. Second, Hennessey’s reasons for why girls lose interest in STEM and his proposed solutions are undeniably accurate and dead on.

The target age range President Hennessey identifies is crucial to closing the gender gap in STEM. In the 4th grade, girls have 66% interest in STEM and by the 8th grade that interest declines to 14% (link). These alarming statistics are the reason we at PinkThink have specifically designed our website, curriculum, and products for girls between the ages of 8 and 14. In addition, we have created a career section (link) to provide girls examples of cool, fun and successful women in STEM.

After identifying “the Who” Hennessey goes on to successfully outline “the Why”. He speaks about the “gamification culture,” which is overwhelming boy-oriented and often promotes killing and destruction. Since girls tend to not relate to this type of atmosphere, creating a gaming culture in which girls will want to participate is key. With an emphasis on design, personalization, and creativity woven into an interactive narrative, PinkThink flips gamification on its head. By emphasizing creation rather than destruction, we supply girls with an accessible and comfortable environment in which they can explore subjects like science, technology, and product design.

Next Hennessy zeroes in on the apparent “isolation effect,” which stems from a lack of peer encouragement and support networks for female students interested in STEM subjects. PinkThink recognizes this problem which is why our games incorporate social media and promote sharing and interaction between girls. Our platform enables girls to reach out and create online peer-supported networks in order to share and collaborate.

The final barrier Hennessey identifies is the risk that girls see STEM careers as a “lonely pursuit”. In short, they perceive science and technology careers as isolating and those working in these careers as lacking social skills. Also known as the “nerd effect,” “popular, attractive girls do not choose calculus, physics, or other higher science and mathematics offerings in high school because they will then be considered nerds by their peers” (link). “Girls think that STEM opportunities are inconsistent with how they see themselves and how they want others to see them” (link). In fact, “about half of all girls feel that STEM is not a typical career path for girls” (link). This is why PinkThink is, well, so PINK. Our approach is to show girls that STEM can be feminine, helping to change their perception and bridge the gap between STEM and their personal experiences. Drawing a link between “feminine” interests and an advanced knowledge of STEM also serves to validate girls and boost their confidence in these subjects.

The benefits to closing the gender gap in STEM seem never-ending: increased scientific and technological progress, heightened levels of collaboration, and not to mention further realization of gender equality! Seeing field leaders like President Hennessey get it right is so exciting because it means we are on the right track to seeing more smart and capable women pursuing STEM careers.

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