Encouraging women and girls’ involvement in STEM careers remains an ongoing challenge. Learn about one organization that is focusing on training and providing female mentors to boost girls’ interest and participation in the field.
Million Women Mentors (MWM) was founded in 2014 by a group of corporate partners. Research shows people with mentors have better academic, economic, and social prospects. MWM’s founders focused on providing role models for women considering careers in technology, engineering, math, and science.
This is because in these industries, women make up only a small proportion of workers. The non-profit connects organizations that serve girls with corporations that offer mentors. It also provides resources to develop mentoring programs.
The organization has grown significantly in four years. It has become an international movement with more than 1,000 volunteers in more than 40 American states as well as a number of other countries. MWM now works with 85 national partners and 60 corporate sponsors.
Extensive research shows that women are severely underrepresented in STEM jobs. Here is some of the evidence MWM provides to illustrate the disparity—and the need to for women to mentor women.
Approximately 44 percent of male high school students plan a career or college major in a STEM field. However, only 15 percent of female high school students do. About one-fifth of female high school students who are interested in STEM say that they want to know more about mentoring programs that can help them plan for the future.
Of every 100 female students who graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree, 10 have degrees in a STEM field. A decade after graduation, only three of those women will still be working in a STEM job. About 20 percent of students with engineering degrees are women, but only 11 percent of the engineering workforce is women.
About half of the jobs in the United States are held by women. By contrast, women hold only about 25 percent of STEM jobs. Additionally, only 4 percent of female students in STEM fields say a mentor encouraged them to pursue STEM.
While MWM is only four years old, it already is garnering positive attention for its programs. Here are just a few examples:
MWM in Nevada
In early 2019, Nevada’s lieutenant governor and an entertainment executive announced a new state organization designed to promote careers in science and technology to girls through a Nevada chapter of MWM. The founders have invited businesses to work with them to provide mentoring opportunities.
In return, Nevada MWM provides an “activation kit” that shows the business how to match up students with young professional women and facilitate mentor-mentee relationships. Nevada MWM leaders have said that while there are many opportunities for women in STEM fields, the gaming industry in particular has wide technology needs.
MWM and Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo recently funded the second year of MWM’s Entrepreneurship Initiative Mentor Program (MWM-Ei) in California. The program supports woman-owned businesses that focus on engineering, math, science, and technology by matching them with experienced mentors who can help them expand their businesses.
One business owner who recently completed MWM-Ei told a media outlet that her mentor taught her to always “think big” and that “you don’t have to win by a direct connection.” She also felt that the program gave her tools to succeed.
Another business owner said that MWM-Ei gave her business structure, validation, and a growth plan. Yet another said her business saw 50 percent growth due to her involvement in the mentoring program.
MWM went international in August of 2018 when the first chapter in the Arab region opened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It’s part of Saudi Vision 2030, an initiative to build a thriving economy where men and women are contributors to economic growth, increase the number of women in the workforce by 30 percent, and encourage more women to work in STEM careers.
Initially, 12 mentors and mentees enrolled in the program from fields such as information technology and finance. The program plans to enroll new mentees each year.
PepsiCo., which co-sponsored the program, wants to have at least two of its mentees take leadership positions in the next few years. Delel Chaabouni, PepsiCo. chief information officer, recently told a media outlet “[I] believe that MWM has the potential to give women the boost of confidence they need to realize they can achieve success in whatever industry they want.”
The Program’s Importance
Research continues to show that having STEM skills benefits women’s businesses, the economy, and their families. Most jobs today require the use of tech skills, including jobs not traditionally considered STEM-related.
As a result, it’s important for women to be confident in their understanding of developments in automation, data analytics, and digitization, among many other STEM topics. Leaders of MWM believe that they are significantly impacting the world by bringing more women’s voices and ideas into invention and discovery.
STEM exposure also gives women more job possibilities, and MWM aims to continue encouraging and sharing women’s stories of success in hopes of creating more representation and opportunities for everyone.