I have often been told that I don’t look like a mechanical engineer, but I love calculus, taking things apart to find out how they work and thermodynamics. Fortunately, I grew up in a supportive environment where my parents and teachers encouraged these passions.
But not everyone is so lucky.
For many girls who start out strong in math and science, interest wanes along the way. There is clear evidence supporting the fact that girls and young women often receive social cues—regularly reinforced in conscious and subconscious ways by parents, schoolteachers, university professors and even managers on the job—that they can’t compete with male counterparts and therefore shouldn’t pursue their goals in science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM).
The result is what’s often referred to as a “leaky pipeline,” in which talented girls eventually steer away from careers in STEM and pursue work in fields where they will receive more positive reinforcement and don’t have to fight as hard to carve out their place in the world.
The Importance of STEM—at Every Age
When women and girls fall off these career tracks, we are all robbed of potential innovators and leaders.
But getting and keeping girls interested in STEM is not just good for the world—it’s good for them. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing nearly twice as fast as non-STEM occupations. In addition, STEM workers earn 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts.
At Johnson & Johnson, we are taking concrete steps to help girls of all ages to stay on the STEM track. Last year, we launched WiSTEM2D, which stands for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing & Design.
The program is aimed at engaging girls between the ages of 5 and 18 through initiatives designed to spark interest in STEM at a young age, encouraging college-aged women to pursue careers in these fields and inspiring professional women to commit to STEM career paths for the long-term.
A New Initiative for a New Generation
Today, we are pleased to announce partnerships with the non-profit organizations FHI 360 and Junior Achievement to help us succeed in this journey. Our 2016 pilots target curriculum and out-of-school programs for girls between the ages of 5 and 18 that they will find fun, enjoyable—and, of course, educational.
The after-school programs—which will mirror the highly successful Partners in Science program that Johnson & Johnson sponsors at the Liberty Science Center—will be rolled out in the U.S., Africa and Europe, with Johnson & Johnson employees serving as mentors.
Our goal is to reach 1 million girls by 2020. True, that’s a big number—but we’ve got some big ideas on how we are going to hit our target.
And it starts with play.
Thomas Edison once said that we miss a lot of opportunities “because they are dressed in overalls and look like work.” With our new initiative, we intend to spark enchantment with STEM2D through creative problem-solving and delightful play.
This program targeting younger girls follows an announcement earlier this year in which we partnered with several universities globally to provide incentives and awards that will attract female students to STEM2D fields of study.
Through this kind of collaborative work, it’s our hope that we can help patch that “leaky pipeline” and nurture a generation of women who will view STEM2D as the exciting and viable career path that it is.
Meri Stevens is Vice President, Strategy & Deployment, for the Johnson & Johnson Supply Chain organization. She also serves as the Executive Sponsor for Johnson & Johnson’s WiSTEM2D outreach program for girls ages 5-18.