You may know that men outnumber women in employment in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the United States, but did you know this issue has gained the attention of major federal entities, including the National Science Foundation, the National Weather Service, and the State Department? In fact, many have launched programs aimed at addressing the gender gap in STEM employment. One of these programs, TechWomen, through the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is aimed at increasing women’s STEM employment globally. Read on to learn more about this innovative program.
Since2011, TechWomen has provided access to STEM education opportunities for women from Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. They are partnered with leading US women in STEM for mentorship and cultural exchange. Over five weeks, the global participants engage in projects, workshops, and meetings in the United States focused on networking, resource sharing, and knowledge building. These activities take place throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and Washington, DC.
Delegation trips are also arranged for the American participants to visit the home countries of the global participants. These trips focus on growing networking opportunities and partnerships between governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, universities, and other high-impact players in STEM industries. Overall, the mission of TechWomen is to provide empowerment, connections, and support for emerging global women leaders in STEM fields so that they are equipped to pursue their careers and become mentors to others.
Over the years, TechWomen has grown exponentially. At launch, the program hosted 37 participants from six countries. Today, close to 520 women from 22 countries have participated in the initiative. The 2019 program expects an additional 108 women.
TechWomen works with countries in North Africa and the Middle East including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, and Tunisia. The member countries in Central and South Asia are Kazakhstan ,Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In Sub-Saharan Africa, member countries are Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
To be eligible, women must be permanent residents of the above member countries, hold at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, and have at least two years of full-time professional experience in a STEM field. Additionally, they must show potential for being an effective role model for women and girls. Applicants are chosen by a committee of industry leaders and regional experts, and semi-finalists may be interviewed by personnel at the US embassy of their permanent country of residence. Preference is given to applicants who are interested in entrepreneurial innovation and show a commitment to returning to their home country to mentor women and girls.
In 2018 TechWomen applicants chose one of six different professional tracks: biotechnology, green/clean technology, information technology, Internet,science, and telecommunications. Five participants from four different countries specialized in biotechnology. In green/clean technology, there were 24 participants from 14 countries. Forty-six women from 18 countries participated in information technology, while five participants from four countries specialized in the Internet track. In science, there were 11 participants from eight countries. Finally, seven participants from six countries specialized in the telecommunications track.
Each TechWomen participant is teamed with three different US mentors. These mentors play three specialized roles: professional mentors, cultural mentors, and impact coaches. Professional mentors must work in a STEM field. Their company must be willing to host a visiting TechWomen participant, and the mentor must be available to work with the visiting participant on a collaborative project four days per week for four weeks.
Professional mentors are paired with visiting participants based on the compatibility of their professional goals, workplace, and networking potential. Cultural mentors introduce the TechWomen participants to the San Francisco region, helping them to adjust to daily life in a new environment, as well as coordinate a variety of activities of interest to the visiting participants that showcase the area. Meanwhile, impact coaches serve as advisers to the visiting participants on developing actions plans that address a socioeconomic challenge in their home communities. Upon returning to their home countries, TechWomen participants aim to implement these projects.
In 2018 participants from 20 different countries participated in TechWomen. The participants from each country were placed into groups to design their socioeconomic impact projects. Five of these projects were awarded grants to implement their plans. These projects aimed to increase female school attendance in Zimbabwe, empower and support female victims of domestic violence in Kazakhstan, improve maternal health in Nigeria, and promote healing for female survivors of genocide in Rwanda.