What We Can Learn From the Girl Scout STEM Initiative

You have undoubtedly heard of gender gaps in STEM fields. It’s apparent enough that most people working in IT can relate on a personal level. Rather than look at political debates and government programs, we’re going to focus on the idea that private investment in STEM-related programs for girls and young women is a surefire way to help bridge that gender gap and help introduce a large number of new people into these industries.

If you really want to stopper the talent gaps in IT and computer science, getting young women excited about the fields is probably the easiest route to take.


What Are They Doing

The Girl Scouts began their STEM initiative several years ago. It started with new badges that emphasized science and technology. The goal was to foster interest that presented in young girls. They have since expanded that initiative substantially.

This year alone, they have added 30 new technology-related badges that can be earned at all ages. They have also increased the age range for some of their more successful programs. Perhaps the most famous is the badge awarded for demonstrating safe habits when going online.


But, the badges were only ever the beginning.

The Girl Scouts sponsor programs that help middle school girls explore coding and programming. Some partner with schools to create computer science classroom environments while others mirror the professional coding boot camps that have become so popular in silicon valley. For high schoolers, even more programs and opportunities exist.

The Girl Scouts sponsor robotics competitions, engineering work studies and a host of programs that all help young women realize their potential in science and technology. To date, they have seen massive success in helping more women foster their interest in promising careers.


Stealing Good Ideas

Obviously, not all of this can directly translate into a plan of action for every business. Sure, Fortune 500 companies have the freedom to invest in camps and outreach programs, but smaller businesses don’t have the resources. That doesn’t have to stop anyone from seeing the success of the Girl Scouts and adapting programs of their own.

At the smallest level, local businesses can usually partially sponsor initiatives that mirror those of the Girl Scouts. Simply having your name attached to these efforts is a good way to have successful participants remember you down the road.


Beyond basic recruitment, investing in STEM interest is vital.

The talent shortage is only growing. The pace of technology calls for additional specialization all the time, and we already don’t have enough people pursuing these careers to fill available positions. When you consider that there are three men for every woman across STEM fields, it’s easy to see where to find more people. But, those gaps will only be filled if we help women embrace interests in science and technology from a young age. It’s not enough to provide words of encouragement. Camps, competitions and extracurricular activities are the thriving heart of developing an interest into a passion and turning hobbyists into professionals.

The point of this isn’t to throw the weight of the world on your shoulders. It isn’t up to you and you alone to help all of the potential STEM specialists among girls and young women find their place in the world. Rather, it’s important to remember why we invest in the next generation. This is one case where there is a successful template, so if you or your business has anything to gain from seeing more cultivated talent in tech fields, there is a clear path to follow.

About the Author: Nancy Peckham

Nancy began her career in telecommunications in 1983 as an account executive with Republic Telecom, a regional long distance carrier. She was named district sales manager for the Wisconsin region in 1987 when Republic Telecom was acquired by Mid American Communications. She recognized a need for independent, objective telecommunications consulting which led her founding Valicom. Since its launch in 1991, Valicom has been a leader in providing telecom expense management solutions and serves enterprise and mid-market clients in a variety of industries and verticals across the U.S.

Nancy earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded and served as president of the Telecommunications Professionals of Wisconsin (TPW) from 1989-1992, and was executive vice president on the board of directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC). Nancy is also a founding member and executive council chair of the Independent Telecommunications Expense Management Association (i-TEM).