|By Sally Martin O'Briant
March 30, 2001
Businesses are teaming up with schools on new programs designed to get more girls interested in technical and engineering jobs. The expected payoff? More female scientists, engineers and computer specialists will be available to help employers overcome an anticipated shortfall of candidates for such jobs in coming years.
Although women outnumber men in college enrollments and degrees earned, only a small proportion go on to careers in science and technology. The gap is most acute in computer sciences, where the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to women has tumbled, according to a report by the American Association of University Women. And women account for only 9% of the country's engineering-related degrees.
Why do girls shy away from such high-paying career paths? They fear being labeled "geeks"; they often lack encouragement; and many lose interest in computers early because so much of the game software is geared toward boys. It's particularly important for girls to be exposed to role models, women who are pursuing successful careers in science and technology, says Elizabeth Carlassare, author of DotCom Divas, a book about women in high-tech jobs.
Several programs aim to narrow the gender gap in science and technical fields. Independent Means is a California-based organization aimed at encouraging girls to develop business and technical skills. Sponsors include Home Depot, Charles Schwab and Fleet. The group runs a program called Camp Start-Up in which teenage girls learn about finance, gain experience writing a business plan and using the Internet and meet with female executives.
Autodesk, a design software and Fortune 500 technology company, has a program called Design Your Future that encourages girls to pursue careers in math, science and technology. Autodesk sponsors interns, a mentorship and job-shadowing program and a girl-designed Web site. It also offers a scholarship to women. Vicki Duggan, a teacher at the Information Technology Institute at Montgomery College in Maryland, developed a summer camp program called GURL Power to attract middle school-aged girls into information technology careers. It also offers scholarships to low-income and minority girls. The camp is taught in English and Spanish. Duggan's efforts recently won an award sponsored by Microsoft and the American Association of Community Colleges for excellence in instruction using technology.
Ford, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola helped fund an engineering program that started last fall at all-female Smith College in Massachusetts. Thanks to "overwhelming" corporate support, women have been flooded with internship offers, says program director Domenico Grasso.
And at Westover, an all-girl high school in Connecticut, students can enroll in an intensive engineering specialty program that's run jointly with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), one of the country's oldest applied engineering schools. Girls who complete the program automatically gain admission to RPI. Corporate support has been invaluable, says Ann Pollina, the school's head. For example, Uniroyal brings girls in to work with its scientists and engineers, and local optometry companies involve the students with computer-based research.
To find out more about mentoring opportunities or other ways that businesses can support science and technology opportunities for women, check out MentorNet, The Ada Project and the Institute for Women and Technology. Researcher-reporter: Matthew J. Turosz