More Girls in STEM Careers

Posted by s.hettrick on 3 December 2014 - 9:47am

By Rane Johnson, Tech Alliance of Central Oregon Board Member and Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research.

Reproduced with permission from the Bendtech blog.

Being in the technology industry for the past 18 years I have seen lots of changes, but unfortunately one area that hasn't changed is the number of women pursuing careers in computer science and engineering. Of the approximately 5.5 million engineering and computing professionals employed in the United States, women make up just 26 percent of computing professionals and only 13 percent of engineers, according to the U.S. Census.

There have been a lot of discussions lately about the lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, the lack of women in the technology industry and the lack of women developing tomorrow's innovations. But if that is all young women hear about, what would motivate a girl to go into a field where she would be considered an outsider?

I feel extremely lucky to have had an amazing career in the technology industry, most recently as the principal director of research for Microsoft. I have never felt like an outsider, but this is not what our young girls hear today. I love living in Central Oregon where we have a blossoming tech startup eco-system building and passionate fellow board members on the Tech Alliance of Central Oregon working hard to support companies in technology, but when I speak to young women they have never heard about these great opportunities. In Oregon we have approximately 250 high schools, but only 30 of them teach some type of computer science class. In Central Oregon we only have three.

So the hope of myself and a number of organizations is we can change the message. We want to show young women the impact they can make with a computer science degree and career. The solution for many of the century's most pressing problems  – climate change, universal access to water, accessible renewable energy sources, cures for HIV or cancer, the digital divide – will require the skills of engineers and computer scientists.

We want more young women around the world and especially in Central Oregon to become producers of technology–not just consumers. We need parents, teachers and counselors to encourage young girls into these fields. That's why I helped start the  Big Dream Movement. Launched in March 2014 at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Big Dream Movement connects girls all over the globe with organizations, academia, and resources to help them pursue a future in STEM fields.

The movement is anchored by the Big Dream, a documentary film (underwritten by Microsoft) that follows the stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in STEM fields. From small town Iowa to the bustling streets of the Middle East, the Big Dream immerses viewers in a world designed by and for the next generation of girls.

We debuted the film earlier this month at the Napa Valley Film Festival. I joined Iron Way Films Director Kelly Cox to introduce the project. Cox's hope is that this inspirational film will excite young women, their families, and friends to the possibilities inherent in science and technology.

Next the film heads to Washington D.C. for Computer Science Education Week, where they will do a briefing with congressional members, have screenings at Microsoft and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and do an Hour Of Code programming with students in D.C. public schools.

Then in January, the Big Dream will come to Bend through the Central Oregon STEM Hub. In addition, any organization, government entity, or business will be able to do free screenings of the film after Computer Science Education Week. You can register to do that here and after December you will get information on how to access the film for a showing. You'll also receive a toolkit that provides information about free resources to encourage young girls to learn computer science.

In Bend and around the world, we want young women to know that not only is there a demand for these jobs, but that they can make a difference by choosing a computer science or engineering path. We can tell all of our children that computer science is creative, collaborative and impactful field of study.