It is incredible to me we are still having this conversation. A century after the 19th Amendment, and sixty years after the second wave of feminism, our education system still favors the encouragement of boys for a science and math curriculum, which then perpetuates the incumbent gender in male-dominated tech and science careers. The barriers young women face in early education around STEM has gotten better over time, but is still an issue which needs serious attention.
Sandy Marshall, CEO and founder of the nonprofit Project Scientist, is looking to change this trend at a time when it matters most: in early education when encouragement is queen. As a man, it is completely impossible for me to reasonably hold the perspective of being told that I should not be interested in these subjects because of my gender. The closest I will ever get to such is living through the eyes of my two daughters. One of them just happens to be a mathematics maven who derives a sense of joy from advanced calculus that my right-brained framing will never fully understand.
Having worked in technology for twenty-five years, I can say from experience across various industries that female colleagues have always been the outliers. My hope for my daughters and so many women out there is that Sandy and other trailblazers will eventually smash that glass ceiling and then build the next great tech innovation on the roof above it.
Project Scientist helps girls ages 4–18 become passionate about science, technology, engineering, and math. As a parent who only discovered this program recently, I cannot help but clench my fists and exclaim “If I had only known about this at the right time!” Sandy believes any girl, regardless of race or background, can have a successful career in STEM. The wonderful thing about mathematics is the absolutes it deals in. It is purely objective. In contrast, the container for academia and career trajectories in STEM has historically been subject to murky systematic issues and biases that hold our girls back. This starts in early education and leads to male-dominated colleges, the absence of female representation on boards, and the fulfillment of high level leadership roles (Only three percent of STEM CEOs are female.)
While I might be overly optimistic, my hope is that the two upcoming generations will make huge strides to close the gender gap in professional roles. But first, we simply need more girls to enter STEM because as of now, six tech stocks make up half of the entire value of the Nasdaq 100, and the aggregate tech allocation is likely only getting larger.
This copy from the Project Scientist website says it all:
“We are determined to reach STEM girls and hold their hand through their Ph.D. or as far as their STEM dreams take them because we believe that the future of STEM is female.”
Project Scientist has helped over 13,500 girls, with 70 percent on scholarship, and Harvard Medical School has praised Sandy for her incredible work. And this nonprofit has not even celebrated its tenth birthday.
Sandy knows that there are an untold number of issues around early identity formation and conditioning that go beyond encouragement in education. The causation of so few women in STEM starts well before school when little girls are encouraged to play with dolls and cooking sets while the boys get science kits and robots. To be fair, boys also play with doll, but most of them have combat armor, weapons, and arc reactors. Men have always gotten a head-start.
Leading into the show, I was curious how something like Project Scientist, which involves hands-on experiences at summer camps, could survive during this pandemic stretch. It turns out that Sandy had quickly created virtual after-school clubs so her girls could continue to receive the resources they needed. Every week, students participated in three hours of online learning, had access to a virtual community of mentors, virtual expeditions at STEM organizations across the country, and even an entire lab kit delivered to their home. It’s all pretty remarkable, but what would you expect from a STEM-leader?
For partly selfish reasons, I want to leave the world a more tolerant place for my daughters. It is always a pleasure to bump into other parents who find inspiration through the eyes of their children as well. When pregnant, Sandy told her husband she would need to fix the world in 18 years. The fact that Project Scientist has helped 13,000 girls (and counting) makes me believe she intends on keeping that promise.