This post is part of Mashable’s ongoing series The Women Fixing STEM, which highlights trailblazing women in science, tech, engineering, and math, as well as initiatives and organizations working to close the industries’ gender gaps.
On Monday, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, which funds science projects and research, announced a $25 million initiative called IF/THEN that seeks to inspire more girls to pursue STEM careers. The initiative — detailed in the video above — consists of three components: funding female scientists’ research, creating an ambassador program with 100 female STEM professionals, and working with partners in a wide range of industries, from sports to science to fashion, to change the way stories about women scientists are told.
“We need little girls to see that they can be any of those things because they don’t even know what the jobs are that are available to them.”
“We need little girls to see that they can be any of those things because they don’t even know what the jobs are that are available to them,” says Small.
The vast coalition of partners, which also includes U.S. Soccer and Project Runway, makes this effort different, says Small. Together, they will show girls that STEM overlaps with hobbies like soccer and fashion. In doing so, they hope to give girls role models to turn to everywhere they go, whether they’re attending a Girl Scouts meeting or scrolling through YouTube videos.
As part of the campaign, the foundation is teaming up with National Girls Collaborative Project to create a digital library of free photos and videos starring female STEM professionals. Another partner, Girl Scouts of the USA, will use this content as part of the programming for a new STEM career badge.
Some of the STEM professionals featured in the videos will also participate in an ambassador program that IF/THEN created in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The ambassadors will “form a dynamic network of women in STEM careers using tools from science communication, public engagement, media, diversity and inclusion, and STEM education to inspire the next generation,” according to Small. The ambassadors will attend in-person summits and share their experiences through digital content, such as vlogs that will be featured on children’s media company GoldieBlox’s YouTube channel, she explains.
The impetus behind this initiative clear: White women only make up 18 percent of people who work in science and engineering, while Asian women make up seven percent, and black and Hispanic women each make up two percent, according to a 2015 national survey of college graduates.
“We can move the needle more together.”
A 2018 report by the Lyda Hill Foundation and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that girls and women are more likely to pursue STEM if they personally know someone in STEM, have a role model in the field, or receive encouragement from teachers, friends, and family members to do so. The report also found that the majority of girls and women believe it’s important to see female STEM professionals in films and television. Despite that, it found that nearly 63 percent of STEM professionals portrayed in media are men.
Small says that because girls constantly consume media, it’s important they see people who look like them in STEM careers. Otherwise, they might not consider one for themselves.
So much great work has already been done to bridge the gender gap in STEM, she explains, but she believes now, with each partner reaching girls through a variety of outlets and communities, they will be able to create a cultural shift.
“We can move the needle more together,” says Small.