It is inevitable the increasing digital transformation across our economies and societies, so more than ever is important to motivate women to participate in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, research, and business. According to Women`s forum, an organization leading by Chiara Corazza, a recent research by BCG has shown that while 99% of surveyed women in STEM roles reported their company has a gender diversity program in place, two thirds of the women report they have not personally benefited.so it is crucial to find the key to unlocking all this unused female potential, we will do much more than build a more equitable workforce. The research pointed out that If we want to fuel economic growth, increase innovation in public and private spheres and to help solve the biggest challenges facing us today, we must succeed in attracting more women into STEM.
“Eight of the ten highest paying jobs are based on STEM competences and these competences are the only way to change the world and face the challenges”
So, to discuss more about this relevant topic I interview Graciela Rojas Montemayor, CEO and Founder of Movimiento STEAM, a nonprofit organization established in Mexico that seeks to involve the different actors in society (companies, government, organizations, parents, teachers) that promotes education in Mexico, in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics, with a gender approach.
Tell us more about your background, before Movimiento STEAM? what did you study?
I studied business administration and then worked in companies related to information technologies. I always liked mathematics but when choosing a career, I believed that STEM was only for men because I come from a family where both my father and my three brothers studied engineering. After many years as an executive and after a personal crisis I decided to dedicate my life to the popularization of science through Profesor Chiflado. Through this initiative I learned about the global STEM / STEAM trend and in 2009 I began to promote it. Little by little I discovered what it meant and in 2017 I decided to found an NGO, Movimiento STEAM whose objective is to influence public policy to make STEAM Education a reality for Mexico and Latin America.
You founded Movimiento STEAM,where did this idea come from? And what services does it provide?
I love what I do, and I am convinced that the work we do at Movimiento STEAM reflects that love. This institution is a legacy for me because I am convinced that STEM is a relevant and urgent cause to be attended in the region. We believe that only by achieving the collaboration of all social actors can we make the systemic change that is required for girls, boys, adolescents and young people in our country to develop STEM competencies to face the challenges of the 21st century.
“Despite the difficulties we are living, it is also important to say that we have a historic opportunity to do things differently and focus the efforts on STEM Education with a social and inclusive vision”
Why is it so important to promote STEAM skills?
According to the World Economic Forum the most relevant competences in the 21st century are critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, collaboration, data literacy, digital literacy and computer sciences. Mexico and the planet are living a breaking point as never before. On one hand, according to UN data, the generation between 9 and 19 years old is the first one that could end extreme poverty and the last one that can do something around climate change, that is, if we fail to influence this generation, as humanity we will simply not have achieved it. And on the other hand, we are facing the Fourth Industrial - Technological Revolution. It is urgent to develop these skills, and the crisis by covid accelerated this a lot.
Eight of the ten highest paying jobs are based on STEM competences and these competences are the only way to change the world and face the challenges I just mentioned. We believe that there is a great opportunity to develop STEM talent because today it is clear that countries cannot continue without these competences. The covid crises we are facing made this more visible.
New leadership is required because this health crisis demands we respond and adapt very quickly to completely unknown scenarios. This health crisis has also made clear the importance of closing the gender gap, because women have been the most affected in the pandemic. Despite the difficulties we are living, it is also important to say that we have a historic opportunity to do things differently and focus the efforts on STEM Education with a social and inclusive vision.
In your opinion, what are the reasons girls don't want to study careers in STEAM? What should we do as a society to change that fact?
There is a lot of work to do because according to an IDB study in Latin America it is socially acceptable as a woman to be incompetent in STEM areas. In social networks three out of every four interactions that reject or criticize mathematics are made by women. So, it is important to work with parents, the media, educational communities, and companies to change these unconscious biases towards women, who build this “dream gap” from a very early age with important consequences throughout their development:
- At 3 years of age girls have already internalized that men are superior
- At 6 years old, girls begin to see themselves as less talented than boys
- … so, they begin to move away from activities that are thought to be for “very, very intelligent” people
- At 10 years old they feel insecure to share their opinion
What we should do as a society to change that fact is:
- We must promote success stories so women can visualize walking this path of success.
- It is important to teach girls to learn from their mistakes, because in STEM Education, failure is a learning opportunity. We are promoting project-based learning programs, so we can teach our daughters to be brave and not perfect.
- It's essential to create inclusive environments and close the pay gap between men and women, it is simple… same job, same pay.
“It is important to teach girls to learn from their mistakes, because in STEM Education, failure is a learning opportunity”
What are your plans for Movimiento STEAM?
Our objective is to promote STEAM with a social and inclusive vision, to close the gender gap. For us it's not enough to give the same opportunities, it's necessary to get the same results, that's why in all our actions we have specific strategies to help girls identify with STEM fields.
We are developing a lot of content to inspire girls and give them vocational orientation with gender focus so girls and teenagers can feel secure electing a STEM career. We are also working very hard with teachers, universities, companies, governments to include this vision in their STEM programs. For example, we convinced one of the most important universities of our country to give scholarships with a gender focus for STEM careers. We are also launching very strong collaborative documents with the key players of Mexico, that include public policy recommendations to develop a national strategy for STEM Education. In 2021, we will work intensely on inclusion with gender perspective and focus on women.
Who is the woman you admire most in STEAM and why?
The story of Maria Montessori was without a doubt a decisive moment in my life. She was the first doctor in Italy and thanks to her studies, education was radically transformed. For the first time, girls and boys were being observed in all their dimensions. Also, thanks to her scientific observations she discovers the importance of learning through the hands, of experimenting and creating, just as proposed by STEAM Education.