Turning Innovation Into Enterprise

TCWV in the News

If You Want to Close the Gender Pay Gap, Steer More Women to STEM

Column in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, October 12, 2014

Anne Barth, Executive Director, TechConnectWV

Several recent news reports about the gender pay gap, both in West Virginia and nationally, are cause for concern.  In 2013, among full-time, year-round workers, women were paid 78 percent of what men were paid.  This is across all occupations and in every state, although the gap is smaller in some states than others.

In West Virginia, women were paid 70 percent of what men were paid, making our state the third worst in the nation for the gender pay gap. If we want to close that gap, we need more women in STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

We need more women working for tech companies, writing code, developing technologies, working for manufacturers, and holding tech positions in all other types of companies.

We need more women tech entrepreneurs, like West Virginia’s own Dr. Marjorie Darrah of eTouch Sciences, Arria Foster-Hines of Allegheny Science & Technology Corporation, and Dr. Jeanne Finstein of Polyhedron Learning Media.

STEM jobs pay on average 26 percent more than other jobs, they tend to be more recession proof, and they are on the rise.  In the next four years, STEM jobs are expected to grow at twice the rate of other jobs.  And the top ten paying majors for the graduating class of 2013 were all STEM fields.

Recruiting more women in STEM will not only help lessen the pay gap and improve the financial status of women, it will also address a critical and growing skills gap in American industry and manufacturing.  With the pending retirement of the baby boomers and upticks in manufacturing, forecasters are warning of workforce shortages.

Another reason to encourage more women to pursue tech jobs in STEM fields is that we’re missing out on the untapped potential of half of the population.  Women bring a different perspective to technology, and their innovations can help drive our economy forward.

If we’re serious about increasing the number of women working in tech careers, we have to steer more girls and young women toward STEM, starting in grades K-12.

New programs at the national and state level are encouraging girls to think about science, math and engineering in new ways.  Foundations, schools, corporations, and youth organizations are stepping up to the plate to offer opportunities in STEM for students.

By targeting STEM programs with girls in mind, it will be easier for them to imagine a future in STEM for themselves.

The Girl Scouts offer a unique STEM program to inspire and encourage scouts through hands on projects ranging from physics, math, engineering, and natural science.

In West Virginia, Morgantown entrepreneur Lynn Dombrowski created STEMPLOY LLC to connect women to STEM fields.  Part of STEMPLOY’s mission is expose girls to STEM careers during middle school, when it’s most critical to capture their interest.  STEMPLOY offers summer camps and special activities throughout the school year to engage and inspire students in STEM fields.

BridgeValley Community & Technical College has hosted “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” for the last several years.  At Elkview Middle School, the “Robo Roses” build their own robots and compete in the First Lego League Championship.

Both WVU and Marshall offer a variety of programs for women students and faculty in STEM, including the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering.

Shepherd University just held a weekend event for middle-school girls called “Seeding Your Future” to boost interest in STEM subjects.

Private firms like GoldieBlox market toys for girls that spark interest in engineering and boost their confidence at an early age.  The firm’s clever videos target girls with images and ideas that appeal to their sense of creativity and curiosity.

And while this program isn’t specifically geared toward women, more women should participate in the Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program offered at BridgeValley Community & Technical College in South Charleston.  Students who are accepted into this program earn a wage while attending college and gain priceless work experience with a global manufacturing leader.  They will have strong earning potential throughout their careers.

These are just a few examples, and clearly much more needs to be done to encourage women in STEM jobs.   What’s happening in your community to encourage girls to pursue a career in a STEM field?  Let’s work together to support this initiative at all levels.

Anne Barth is Executive Director of TechConnect West Virginia, a non-profit organization working to advance innovation-based economic development and growth in West Virginia.  Learn more at www.techconnectwv.org