How Do We Encourage More Women in STEM?

Everyday Einstein talks to Rep. Lois Frankel about women in STEM.

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #247

Last week the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute hosted the Fifth Annual Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Fair in Washington, D.C. A theme of the bipartisan event is encouraging more participation in science and technology fields from women at all career stages, a topic near and dear to my heart.

The fair has both nonprofit and private sector partners in attendance that give science demos, offer information on programs they have to promote women in STEAM fields, as well as provide examples of careers available to those interested in pursuing a science-based education. I was there with L’Oreal USA to discuss their grants program for early career women scientists which has funded my research in the past as well as to give science demonstrations with my infrared camera.

Also supporting the fair was the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, including Caucus Co-Chairs Representative Susan Brooks and Representative Lois Frankel and Caucus Vice-Chairs Representative Mimi Walters and Representative Brenda Lawrence. I got a chance to sit down with Representative Lois Frankel before the event to get her advice on how we can increase the participation of women in science-related fields.

EE: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us here at Everyday Einstein. Can you tell us a little about your work as Co-Chair of the Congressional Women's Caucus and why the Caucus has an interest in hosting the STEAM fair?

Rep. LF: Well, we try in this very beleaguered atmosphere where there seems to be so much conflict between Democrats and Republicans that we try to find subject matter or projects or bills that we can work together and we actually do find some. For example, human trafficking has been a subject that we’ve worked together on and then today we’ll be joining in on a STEM fair which will be some outreach not only to some young girls but to the staff here and some of the folks that work on Capitol Hill. Because that’s something on both sides of the aisle that we agree on. STEM education is very important for both young men and young women. Actually, probably now for workers of all ages because our economy is changing so much.

We know there is a dramatic difference between the number of girls that actually go into STEM education and young boys. So today is really to highlight with folks like yourself why women and girls should get involved in STEM education.

EE: Excellent. I’m excited to hear that that’s a priority that people on both sides of the aisle are working together on. What advice would you give to young women who have an interest in STEM fields or perhaps to parents of young women who want to pursue STEM careers? 

Rep. LF: Well, I think it’s very interesting to learn about what the jobs of the future are and to know what’s waning and what’s waxing. When I think back to – we’re going to have to go way back to my childhood – but growing up and the kinds of jobs that girls were put to - secretaries and maybe an accountant and teachers. A lot of those jobs are actually fading away.

But what’s happening in the future is so interesting and exciting. Well you have a profession but you’ll have to talk about that yourself because that’s really out of this world [EE: nice!] It’s an awesome profession what you’re doing [EE: thank you] When you think about it though, we just had an evening working session with five or six folks who focus on what’s happening in the future with jobs. We were talking about the necessity – especially for young people – for them to know that they are probably going to have to change their job four or five times during their lifetime.

We have a situation they call robotization and Amazonization. In other words, we have a lot of robots coming into our economy and then you have Amazon really replacing a lot of the retail.  But the jobs of the future are going to be like designing robots or advising people how to use a robot. That’s just for example but how about curing a disease? There are so many exciting things in the future but you have to get the right education.

So I would say for parents for parents to understand what the jobs of the future are and to make sure that their young girls know that too. And to pick out some role models. Listen, we all know who Beyoncé is, the young girls all know Beyoncé, but let’s face it. They’re not all going to be able to sing and dance like Beyoncé, but let them know about Katherine Johnson. She was highlighted in a recent movie and contributed to NASA’s space programs. Rachel Carson another famous woman who advanced the global environmental movement. Edith Clarke who was the first professionally employed female engineer. Molly Orshansky a food economist and statistician who worked in the poverty field. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper who developed computer languages.

It’s interesting they say interpreters are going to go away, I guess because technology is going to take over but somebody has to be behind all this technology. And that’s where these young women come in.

EE: That’s really great advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.

Rep. LF: You’re welcome. And keep reaching for the stars.

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

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About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.