STEM in the White House: How the United State of Women Summit Reminded Us of the Importance of Confidence and Representation
” At the rate that we’re going, we will be on Mars before 50 percent of girls in high school are in AP computer science courses.”
~ Dava Newman
By Jasmine Johnson
The White House hosted its inaugural Women Summit: The United State of Women in Washington D.C with more than 5,000 in attendance. This event was not only a platform to acknowledge and highlight the achievements of women, but a call to action for women’s rights and gender equality in America. The call to action resulted in the government, businesses and organizations represented pledging $50 million to supporting women and girls.
Representation still matters.
The lack of representation and interest in STEM for women and girls was a primary topic of the summit. NASA Deputy Administrator and engineer Dava Newman and U.S Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith held a public conversation where they commented on the implicit bias women deal with in STEM, and how women are simply not represented in STEM fields in proportion to men.
Newman noted that women make up only one-third of NASA’s scientists and just over one-fifth of the agency’s engineers. She called it an “atrocity” and as women in STEM, we get it. The issue of representation as professionals is glaring . Newman believes at the rate that we’re going, we will be on Mars before 50 percent of girls in high school are in AP computer science courses.
If you’re not new to the STEM life, you already know there aren’t many of us and our jobs, aside from our respective field, is to create awareness of this problem. Part of the mission is to address the lack of self-confidence of many young girls who feel that being in STEM fields is too challenging and not for them, a problem that can begin in elementary and continue through college.
During “The Next Generation of Women: A Conversation with First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey,” Mrs. Obama stated, “Our first job in life as women is to get to know ourselves — and a lot of times we don’t do that.” More often than not, women fail to acknowledge our potential when there aren’t enough women who look like you in the position you aspire to attain. The lack of representation and lack of confidence go hand in hand.
Gaining and operating from a sense of self.
She then talked about how Women of Color (WoC) look to others and the pressures society puts on us to define ourselves by those perceptions. She later mentions that Women of Color have been put into a box, stating,“If we live in that limited definition, we would miss out on a lot of who we are.” The words of the FLOTUS holds true to what we as women—and in particular WoC in STEM—from all walks of life should live by.
With the achievements women have made throughout the years, especially Women of Color, to have a women’s summit to highlight and focus on the issues is a step in the right direction of acknowledging our place in and contribution to STEM. But a lot of work still has to be done. Women still have fewer jobs and are paid 77 cents on the dollar, and the gap is bigger for WoC. To be a woman in this time period is to still be aware of the inequalities and issues, but to also be proud of who we are and how far we’ve come.
Photo: YURI GRIPAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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