Women and Progress and STEM, Oh My!

Women and Progress and STEM, Oh My!

Introducing our newest team member, Tiffany Jalalon Sprague! With a focus on girls’ STEM education and economic development and a background in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, we’re excited to welcome her fascinating perspective to the team. Read on for her take on women’s empowerment, STEM, and funding for gender equity programs!

What would it look like to live in a gender equitable world?  Women and girls could realize their full potential. Women could have more control over their lives.  They could go to school; own property; participate in the political process; earn more money, etc. If everyone had the chance to participate fully in the global economy, productivity would increase significantly – creating even more opportunities for everyone, and perhaps even coming close to eradicating poverty.

Only relatively recently has gender inequality been globally recognized as a critical issue to confront.  The achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls is one of the goals specified in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all of the United Nations Member States in 2015.  As an advocate for gender parity, I am relieved to see this issue finally brought to light on the international stage.  Women and girls are held back economically and socially when they do not have equal access to opportunities. A recent study by McKinsey shows that the world economy would increase by an estimated $28 trillion by the year 2025 if women participated in the economy to the same extent as men.  

I co-founded the nonprofit organization Scientific Adventures for Girls (SAfG) in Oakland, California, USA in an effort to help advance gender equality and to increase self-efficacy of women.  Living in the epicenter of technology and innovation, it has always been mind-blowing to me that only 15% of engineers, 12% of physicists and astronomers, and 26% of computer scientists are women.  Globally, UNESCO reports that only 33% of researchers worldwide are women, and 30% of all female students enroll in STEM-related fields in higher education (UNESCO data); 3% of women enroll in computer science; 5% in natural science and math; and 8% in engineering.  Gender bias and strong stereotypes remain formidable barriers of entry to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Therefore, I have been focusing on closing the massive gender gap in STEM careers in this region, and as a new member of the Catalystas team, I am excited to bring my expertise and enthusiasm to a more global audience.   

Investment in programs supporting women and girls in STEM is trending and steadily on the rise.  Organizations such as UN Women are currently funding digital literacy and computer skills development programs in countries including Jordan, Guatemala, and Afghanistan as well as supporting mobile payment and information systems for farmers and women in small businesses throughout Eastern Africa. UN Women has also been supporting the development of mobile apps and games to raise awareness on violence against women and to support survivors in Brazil and South Africa.  Corporations like Shell are supporting programs that promote STEM diversity in the primary education space. Foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are funding programs that encourage young women to be change makers in their communities through digital and leadership training, mentoring, and hands-on opportunities.  Nonprofit organizations such as WAKE International address issues around sexual assault, gender-based violence, LGBTQIA rights, and more by recruiting volunteer mentors from high-profile companies to deliver trainings to women leaders in the NGO sector.

Just as vital as achieving gender balance in STEM fields and economic empowerment is the inclusion of female perspective and voice to inspire new scientific discoveries that positively impact everyone.

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