Getting girls thinking about a STEM future Getting girls thinking about a STEM future

Boston Fed leaders aim to show young women the benefits of a science and tech career track Boston Fed leaders aim to show young women the benefits of a science and tech career track

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November 16, 2018

There’s been uneven progress in the work to draw more women into science, technology, engineering and math jobs – the so-called STEM occupations – and that has leaders at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston thinking about how to get more girls looking for their future in these expanding fields.

Teaming up with the 8th grade girls of GOLD, the Cambridge YWCA’s Girls Only Leadership Development program, is one way to do it.

The Boston Fed’s relationship with GOLD was initiated this year by Vice President of IT Paul Brassil. The Bank participated in a GOLD career day earlier this year, and it’s working to further develop the partnership. Brassil called the lower representation of women in STEM fields “heartbreaking” because it means missed opportunity and lost potential. The Bank, he said, wants to demystify careers in technology for girls and inspire them to think about STEM careers, including at the Fed.

“There’s a misconception about careers in IT,” Brassil said. “People think you have to be Bill Gates, you have to be this really smart math expert, and plenty of girls in IT are. But careers in technology today have a wide range of skill sets, like problem solving, resource management, or even law enforcement when we’re dealing with cybercriminals. And maybe if more young women knew that, there would be more girls thinking about careers in IT.”

The most recent U.S. Department of Commerce update on women working STEM jobs indicated that while women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs, they had 24 percent of STEM jobs.

A Pew Research study indicates women are gaining representation in some STEM fields faster than others. For instance, women now hold about 47 percent of jobs in the life sciences, up from 34 percent in 1990 and equal to the female share of the workforce. But the percentage of women in computer occupations has dropped from 32 percent to 25 percent between 1990 and today, according to Pew.

Amanda Okaka, the GOLD program coordinator, said there’s a personal cost when girls prematurely eliminate themselves from STEM fields, and the high-paying and plentiful jobs there. But she added there’s a cost for business, too.

“When more women enter male-dominated industries, we see a wave of new processes, new products, new designs,” she said. “The greater diversity of thought is a real source of innovation.”

Barbara St. Louis, who oversees the Boston Fed’s project management group for local IT, said girls need exposure to more women working in IT.

“I have a daughter, and the other women that she sees as role models aren’t in IT,” she said. “For girls growing up, it’s important to see more women in that field, to aspire to want to do that.”

The Boston Fed has numerous employees who are great examples of women in IT, Brassil said. He added that the Bank is also working on technology, such as an app that works with Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa, that can really resonate with teens. Brassil said the hope is he and other members of his team will soon visit the GOLD girls at the Cambridge YWCA to get to know them, and talk more about the Fed and the need for diversity in IT.

“We want these girls to being able to see themselves in any one of a variety of roles in IT,” Brassil said. “And if they see themselves in those roles at the Fed, that’s great, too.”

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