By Rita Landgraf and Jennifer Kmiec
By becoming a mentor, you could reinforce a teen‐age girl’s dreams of becoming a pediatric surgeon or inspire a young woman to keep advancing in her engineering career. Delaware is joining a national movement to increase the number of women and girls involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. Even though women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. Our Million Women Mentors – Delaware team is committed to increasing that share by reaching a state goal of 2,000 pledged STEM mentors – both female and male – as part of the national goal of 1 million STEM mentoring relationships for girls and women by 2018.
Working through the Million Women Mentors’ website, our state team will work with individuals, corporations and organizations on pledges to become mentors, and then to connect them with organizations that serve girls and women who are in need of STEM mentors. By engaging 2,000 mentors in Delaware, our goals are to:
- Increase the percentage of high school girls planning to pursue STEM careers.
- Increase the percentage of young women pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.
- Increase the percentage of women in STEM careers.
With the Department of Health and Social Services, our pharmaceutical and biotech companies, educational institutions and health care systems, the health care industry in Delaware will provide a strong foundation for mentors and a willing pipeline for STEM‐trained female workers. Health care is all about science, technology and math – medical care, laboratory research, epidemiology and data analysis, just to name a few. Think of state government alone, and we need more women in STEM fields across the spectrum – from DelDOT and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, to the Office of Management and Budget, Agriculture and Education. There isn’t a state agency that doesn’t embrace technology and math.
Beyond tapping into the human potential of girls and women that we are missing right now, we also have a fundamental workforce need: As early as 2018, our country expects to have a shortage of 230,000 STEM employees. Girls and women are critical to closing that gap, and it all begins in school. Female high school students are significantly less likely than their male counterparts – 15 percent vs. 44 percent – to plan to pursue a college major or career in STEM.
That gap translates into a small percentage of young women earning STEM‐related degrees. In 2015, about 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 16 percent of those in computer science were earned by women, according to federal data. It’s critical that girls ‐‐ and boys ‐‐ acquire those STEM‐oriented skills, because in the future, 71 percent of all jobs will require some measure of those skills.
In Delaware, we have a rich history of women leading and succeeding in the STEM fields. Think of Ellen Kullman, Stephanie Kwolek and Uma Chowdhry at the DuPont Co. Or Dr. Katherine Esterly, who created the first neo‐natal ICU at Christiana Hospital, and Jane Mitchell, the first African‐American registered nurse at the Delaware Psychiatric Center. And such pioneers as Cecile Long Steele, who advanced Delaware’s chicken industry, and Carol Timmons, the first brigadier general in the Delaware Air National Guard.
Mentoring is a proven strategy to ensure that more high school girls and female college students follow in those amazing footsteps in the STEM fields of study and also to motivate more women to opt for and to stay in STEM careers.
Here’s the sad part: Only 4 percent of the 368,000 girls nationwide who plan to pursue STEM said a mentor encouraged them. Think about your dreams and aspirations. You surely remember a teacher, a confidante or a mentor who believed in you and became your sounding board. We must do the same for girls and women pursuing education and careers in STEM. Across the country, female high school students interested in STEM say they would like to learn more about mentoring and motivational programs to help prepare them for the future.
Your commitment to becoming a Million Women Mentor means spending at least 20 hours a year – less than two hours a month – mentoring a girl or young woman. There are five pathways to becoming a
- Face‐to‐face meetings.
- Online mentoring through Skype, Google chats, text or email.
- Paid internships and apprenticeships.
- Workplace mentoring to engage and support younger and less‐experienced employees.
- Sponsorship to champion a young woman for internships, jobs or promotions.
This week during Delaware Innovation Week, the members of Million Women Mentors – Delaware are launching our statewide mentor recruitment efforts at the DE STEM Educator Awards and Inspiring Women in STEM Conference, both on Nov. 15. Join us in making this critical skills‐investment in the future of Delaware by helping to inspire girls and young women to become the next generation of scientists, engineers, computer programmers, doctors and more. Add your name to the list of Delaware STEM mentors – and become part of the million – at millionwomenmentors.org. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Rita Landgraf is Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Health and Social Services and Honorary Chair of Million Women Mentors – Delaware, and Jennifer Kmiec is founder of Inspiring Women in STEM, Associate Director of The Committee of 100, and Chair of Million Women Mentors – Delaware.