I dropped by the Apple Genius Bar, a help desk where Apple employees known as “Geniuses” fix just about any computer issue you bring them. I was called for my appointment by a young woman who introduced herself with a joke highlighting the fact that she was the only woman Genius at the Bar. I didn’t even notice until she made the joke. But in fact, of the 15 Geniuses there that evening, she was the only woman working behind the counter. In 2012, women made up only 26% of the labor force in computer and mathematics related fields. Unfortunately, until she mentioned it, I barely paid any attention.
There are a variety of reasons why there is a shortage of women in STEM related fields. I won’t pretend to understand them all. But one barrier for young women is a lack of motivation to even pursue STEM related professions. Many young women in school right now aren’t motivated because they struggle to even imagine themselves as engineers, businesswomen, or computer scientists. For many girls, without positive first hand experiences in those fields, this very idea never even crosses their mind. The solution then doesn’t end with solely creating equal spaces for women in those fields. It goes further to make sure that our girls are exposed to those careers as early and frequently as possible. By providing opportunities for girls to not only see these careers but to learn them through experience instills a mindset that they too can do STEM related work. The sense of competency and belonging that is created through these experiences provides girls the chance to fully imagine themselves in those careers and thus pursue STEM professions.
Fall apprenticeships are halfway complete and young women comprise more than half of our Apprentices. It important to recognize that at this point, they are thinking about their futures in some new ways. At New England Baptist Hospital, Apprentices are getting hands-on experience in medicine, learning about knee replacements with a biotech company while Apprentices at WGBH are exploring the future television production working on digital billboards. Our Apprentice at NorthStar Asset Management, an all-women organization, is learning about the stock market by competing with her mentors and co-workers in an online trading game, and winning!
We are watching the imaginations of our female Apprentices expand in remarkable ways as each of these young women begins to see themselves in professions they never considered before. This is the next step for the young women in our society: It’s about allowing them to step through the door of any profession and say, “I belong here.”