Project Scientist: The Future of females in STEM

Summit IMPACT! Talk: She’ll Be Ready – Will You?

Project Scientist is leading the way to educate, coach, and advocate for the next generation of female STEM innovators. Presenter Sandy Marshall, CEO & Founder, Project Scientist

Part 1 of the IMPACT! Talks series at the 2022 Executive Summit. IMPACT! Talks are quick-hitting presentations, designed to tackle technical talent challenges with new ideas and disruptive thinking.]

As industry leaders tackle the critical topic of the future of women in STEM, they often face the stark reminder of the challenges the tech industry faces in filling STEM roles today, while also bracing for the unavailability of this talent in the future. With tech talent projected to decline in the U.S. it is imperative that as a nation we foster this skill; especially in girls and women. Traditionally, this group has seen a decline in interest in school and then later in life. Apropos for National STEM day, Sandy Marshall, CEO and Founder of Project Scientist, delivered an inspiring presentation about her organization’s work in motivating girls as young as 4-years-old through age 18+, to actively pursue a life of STEM in school and in their future careers.

Borne from a personal desire to hone her once 4-year-old daughter’s interest in STEM studies, Project Scientist was launched 10 years ago and has since served 20,000 girls through their STEM education programs. This is a stepping stone to their goal of reaching 500,000 girls by the year 2040.

In addition to working towards increasing girls’ continued interest in STEM fields, particularly computer science and engineering, Project Scientist also has a vested interest in working with girls who have been marginalized and traditionally excluded from STEM opportunities, as ‘85 percent of the students they serve are from under-resourced backgrounds.’

Courtney Rhodes, Project Scientist Parent
“The girls have loved it. They’ve talked about their projects every single day of what they’re doing in addition to who they’ve met here. I think it’s really important to expose, particularly girls of color, to engineering and to science so that they can see themselves in those positions one day.”

Sandy Marshall
“The world has vast global challenges that can be solved by diversifying the STEM workforce and bringing new ideas, solutions, and workstyles to the market.”

Steve Hagood, SVP and CIO, oTRANE Technology
“Project Scientist is all about inspiring young girls to be all that they would wish to be. We are literally going to try to educate and inspire the next generation of girls to be the leaders, and the scientists and the engineers of tomorrow.”

The Project Scientist story, kicked off the popular IMPACT! Talks series at the 2022 TechServe Executive Summit. Sandy Marshall delivered telling and descriptive “Problem-Solution” scenarios, outlined below, as evidence for how companies, educational institutions, and society at large, must adjust their thinking and make a deliberate effort towards elevating female representation in STEM studies to help fill the talent pipeline.

The Challenges

Challenge 1: Women are historically underrepresented in the STEM field partly because the perception of females not being “suited for science” starts young.For example, in 1983, 5,000 children were asked to draw a picture of a scientist. This resulted in just 28 female-centered scientist pictures – all drawn by girls. Today, that same experiment resulted in 28% of 20,000 drawings depicting a female scientist. Better? Yes, but there is still work to do.

*Source: Ed Young. “What We Learn from 50 Years of Kids Drawing Scientists”, The Atlantic. 2018

Challenge 2: Growth Mindset

When faced with challenges in math or science, most prevalent during the middle-school years, boys exhibit a growth-mindset in that they will overcome the challenge and move forward. Girls, tending towards a fixed mind-set, essentially disengage from the topic at hand and will cease interest in exploring math and science material.

Challenge 3: Stereotype Threat

What girls see and hear about their role in science and math drives their interest in pursuing STEM in education and later in their careers. And what they are hearing is often consciously or unconsciously biased thoughts by peers, teachers, and other adults that girls are “just not good at math and science.”

Challenge 4: Self-Assessment
challengeAs girls continue to internalize that they don’t measure up to boys in math and science, in reality they continue to outpace them according to research. These negative self-assessments cause them to avoid difficult courses like AP calculus, physics and more in school, which translates into not pursuing those disciplines in their careers.


How Can the Technology Staffing and Solutions Industry Impact Women in STEM?

Although the representation of women in STEM has increased over the last 4 decades, the rate of increase and the ratio of women in the workforce vs. women in STEM is still quite off-balance. As technology staffing and solutions firms, there is an opportunity to expand the pipeline of future technology talent by supporting the next female generation of STEM workers. According to Marshall, here’s how:

5 Strategies to Support Girls in Stem

1. Change the Growth Mindset
Encourage girls to undertake the challenging STEM classes at school, as well as female colleagues to pursue high-profile STEM projects at work. Champion the idea of embracing failures, as failure drives innovation in science.

2. Praise for effort
Avoid equating ‘being smart’ with doing well in STEM studies, as smart indicates something people cannot necessarily control. A less-than-perfect grade deserves praise when the effort was put in and the student applied themselves.

3. Expose girls to successful role models in STEM
Be careful not to focus on people who seem out-of-reach because of fame or popularity, but instead socialize them to working women in the field, as it demonstrates the reality that a STEM career is truly attainable. Create opportunities in your organization to network your female leaders, both in STEM and non-STEM roles alike, to serve as mentors and examples of what the future workforce can look like.

4. Educate students, teachers and working professionals about the dangers of stereotyping
In addition to rooting out stereotypes in classrooms, companies must work to recognize and dispel them within their own workplace. To eliminate these biases, the Project Scientist Teaching Institute encourages continual reflection on these hidden biases to reinforce new approaches to making more positive connections. In organizations, it’s critical to advocate for female colleagues to lead STEM projects, support promotions and call out inequities when they see them.

5. Encourage girls to take classes in calculus, chemistry, engineering, computer science during their study years and expand resources to female professionals to increase their STEM knowledge-base as well with continued education opportunities. Go outside the box.

In addition to the strategies noted above, firms are encouraged to use their vast networks to make an impact by partnering with educational STEM resources, sharing the stories of women in STEM, and creating career paths specifically for this demographic.

In closing her IMPACT! Talk, Sandy Marshall shared a statistic that was both inspiring and aspirational:

85% of girls who want to enter a STEM career want to help people and use that knowledge to change the world.

By giving validity to girls’ interest in STEM as an education and career path, she noted, firms can help change the talent trajectory. Technology staffing and solutions leaders have a vested interest in seeing STEM studies grow across the female population to prepare them to fill the talent voids of the future and to promote diversity of thought. According to Marshall, the students in these programs are hopeful that the workforce will change and evolve for everyone, because they are ready to face those challenges and eager to fill those roles. The industry must be ready for them.

To watch Sandy Marshall’s IMPACT! Talk from this year’s Summit, use this link below: