I’m a Title IX girl. Signed into law by President Nixon in 1972, it reads "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” I was 11 when the regulations became effective in 1975. Despite opposition to Title IX in the courts and inconsistent compliance on them, strong and talented female scholarship athletes began to emerge from the shadows and on to the center of courts, pools, fields and tracks in universities throughout the country. The words “athletics” or “sports” are never mentioned, yet the effect of Title IX on female athletes is remarkable. By 1978, I was nearly 6 feet tall and ripping down offensive boards at Olympian Nancy Dunkle’s summer basketball camp, one of over 100 girls with newly possible college hoop dreams. In 1982, the strong, talented female scholarship athlete nervously awaiting her first collegiate jump ball was me.
(Photo Caption: The author, center, in 1978 at Olympian Nancy Dunkle’s summer basketball camp, one of many sparked by Title IX.)
On the 40th anniversary of Title IX’s passing, a White House press release stated that the number of female college athletes has increased from 30,000 to 190,000, and, not coincidentally, the proportion of female professors in science and mathematics has more than doubled. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Statistics found that women’s increased participation in sports leads to increased participation in the workforce and, particularly, in high-skill, high-wage fields.
I can attest to this. There is no way I would be equipped to lead a large staff, negotiate multi-million dollar partnerships or engage in highly visible public speaking and engagement opportunities had I not learned leadership skills, discipline, perseverance and teamwork from talented, caring coaches and teammates. Trust me when I tell you how effectively you learn to perform and adapt in high pressure, highly public situations when you are standing at the free throw line, down 2 in the final minutes of a play-off game! I have yet to encounter a business situation that can replicate that particular blend of adrenaline and nerves.
In the same way Title IX completely changed the landscape for girls in sports – it’s time for a full-court press on Girls in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. Past myths and stereotypes surrounding girls’ participation in sports are still applied to STEM today. For example:
MYTH: Girls are not as interested as boys in playing sports (simply replace with math, engineering, science and/or technology today).
FACT: The dramatic increase in girls' and women's participation in sport since Title IX was passed in 1972 (by 560% at the college level and over 1000% in high schools) demonstrates that it was lack of opportunity – not lack of interest – that kept females out of high school and college athletics for so many years. Girls were also told that they were not as interested in law or medicine as men: today women thrive in these fields.
SO here are the top nine reasons girls need a Title IX STEM revolution…..
Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the US Economy, they fill less than 25% of STEM jobs. So why is that a big deal? Read #2….
Women with STEM jobs earn 33% more than women with non-STEM jobs (.92 cents for every male dollar compared to .77 cents for every male dollar in non-STEM jobs). Now I’m not thrilled to know I am being out-earned by 8 cents simply by virtue of a missing ‘y’ chromosome – but it beats 23 cents.
75% of all college students are women or students of color, yet they represent only 45% of STEM degrees earned each year. Too many of these young women leave STEM degree paths despite their good academic standing, often citing uncomfortable classroom experiences and climate. Far more young women abandon STEM-related classes in their high school years for similar reasons, enrolling in math and science classes at the same rate as their male counterparts, only to stop once the minimal college entrance requirements are met.
There are significantly fewer female role models and mentors in STEM fields than many other occupations. Another major reason female students cite leaving a STEM degree path is a lack of strong role models and mentors in both encouraging and supporting their academic growth, as well as providing real life examples of how to successfully navigate a predominantly male workforce. And apparently it doesn’t improve significantly even after women stick it out and earn a degree in a STEM field…..
Of 100 female bachelor’s students, 12 will graduate with a STEM major and only three will continue to work in a STEM field 10 years later. So even the women who are in the STEM workforce currently are not likely to stay. Why the attrition? According to a 2012 STEMConnector publication “100 Women Leaders in STEM,” many women reported they were “the only woman” in their physics lab, software company, computer science lab. Companies need to be able to attract and maintain great employees! Job satisfaction surveys routinely demonstrate that relationships with co-workers ranks very high on the list of employee engagement aspects, and is a higher priority for females than males, as is feeling safe in the workplace. Additionally, organizations that show commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace are also more appealing to female employees (27%) than to male employees (18%) – not to mention black employees (57%) than to white employees (20%). Being a minority female in a STEM field can be particularly isolating.
It just ROCKS to see strong, brilliant women succeed – and support and encourage young girls to do the same. Just last week, the 2014 Fields Medal was awarded to Stanford Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female recipient in the 80-year history of this top honor in mathematics. “This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," she said in a news release. "I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years." Another trailblazer, Sally Ride – the first American woman to fly in space – had this to say about girls in STEM: “The stakes could hardly be higher. Our country needs a new generation of visionary scientists and innovation to ensure our future prosperity.” You don’t argue with Sally Ride. She was an astronaut AND her name is in a Wilson Pickett song – it doesn’t get much cooler than that!
Studies show the American workforce needs to produce an ADDITIONAL one million STEM professionals beyond those we are currently on track to produce, simply to remain innovative and competitive on the international stage. As the National Women’s Law Center says in “The Next Generation of Title IX: STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” the United States simply cannot tap into the brain power and innovation of all of its people when women and girls are discouraged by stereotypes and structural barriers from pursuing careers in STEM.
A full 80% of the fastest growing industries and occupations require a mastery of math and science. For those of you who need a little help with math: that’s a LOT. Like, most of the jobs…. You’re welcome.
Even the non-STEM jobs of the future require STEM skills! Of the remaining non-STEM jobs, 71% will require basic STEM skills! So if having strong STEM skills makes you more competitive in both STEM and non-STEM jobs, girls NEED to be better prepared in STEM just to hold their ground. Which still means earning less than their male counterparts, but that’s a topic for another blog.
The true significance of Title IX, for all women and certainly for me, has been the increase in opportunities off the court. Bernice "Bunny" Sandler, who helped draft the legislation and now works as a senior scholar for the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C., calls the law "the most important step for gender equality since the 19th Amendment gave us the right to vote." Achieving the same level of success for girls in STEM that was experienced by girls in sports is vitally important.
That’s why the organization I am blessed to work with, MIND Research Institute, is joining Million Women Mentors, an initiative started by STEMConnector. MWM’s goal is advancing women and girls in STEM careers through mentoring. MIND employs a large number of women in both STEM and non-STEM capacities, all contributing to our mission to ensure that every child is equipped to solve the world’s most challenging problems. Part of solving those problems is to help level the STEM playing field for every student – regardless of gender or ethnicity.
There are many other great organizations and associations, in addition to those already cited above, working hard to pave a smoother path for girls in STEM including the American Association of University Women, Girls Who Code, the Girl Scouts and many more.
Finally – there are these organizations – the ones I relate to most: Girlstart, Tech Trek, Camp Reach, G.A.M.E.S, and G.R.A.S.P. What do they have in common? They are all camps for girls – focused exclusively on imparting the power of STEM and encouraging girls to embrace their inner mathematician – or scientist – or engineer. Because I know firsthand how one simple little week at camp can change a girl’s life…..
MIND Research Institute is supporting girls in STEM through its first-ever Women with Drive Golf Outing Aug. 25.
About the Author
Janine Ingram was the Vice President of Social Impact Partnerships at MIND Research Institute.