Tonight, I will join colleagues from girls’ schools from across the nation in celebrating 20 years of work by the National Coalition of Girls Schools. I will certainly raise a glass and toast the progress made over the past two decades, but I also want to ask the question – how much more work is left to be done? Has our campaign to empower young women – especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields – been successful? I was struck at a recent meeting of Heads of Schools when I heard two of the speakers refer to the needs of boys. To quote one of the presenters, “The girls are kicking a–!”
While it is true that the current college population is about 60% female, let’s dig a little deeper and examine some data. To his credit, the presenter did exactly that with a friendly prompt from yours truly ☺. He followed up his earlier statement by acknowledging that while more women than men are entering colleges and universities, that men “out-perform” them in many areas – especially in the sciences and in technology. There is much evidence that what is at play here is, once again, issues of confidence rather than competence. We must also remember that women are forced to create space for themselves in these male dominated fields. Where are the male allies? Your engagement in ending sexism is needed!
In 2008, I had the privilege of serving as a state delegate to the Democratic State Convention in support of Senator Hillary Clinton. As I worked through the Washington State political process from the local caucus to Spokane, I was struck by very clear evidence that sexism was alive and well in American politics. I will not go down the road of comparing “isms,” but I saw Senator Clinton hit that glass ceiling! For me, that campaign was a reminder of both how far we have come and how far we have left to go.
So lets examine the data to see how far we have come and how far we have left to go in accessing STEM fields for young women. In a report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) entitled Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, eight research findings are grouped into three areas:
•How social and environmental factors shape girls’ achievement and interest in math and science
•The climate of college and university science and engineering departments
•Continuing influence of bias
The report provides insight in terms of the reality as well as potential solutions. For now, we must work in all three of these areas in order to increase the percentages of women in STEM fields that range from a low of less than 10% in Mechanical Engineering and Electronics to a “high” of just over 30% in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. The lack of female role models at the university level is apparent as tenured female professors range from just over 7% in engineering to a “high” of 22% in computer sciences.
A detailed overview of the STEM Equity Pipeline is available at:
It would seem that schools like Seattle Girls’ School are needed today more than ever in order to both continue the work of empowerment; and to remind educational leaders – all leaders – that while the current American educational system may not be serving boys, it is also not serving girls! The power of single-sex education for both boys and girls lies in its ability to meet the needs of that individual learner; and we know more and more that gender differences do exist at the physiological level.
So, tonight, I will raise a toast with my colleagues; but I will save a bottle of the “good stuff” for the day when we elect our first female President!