It has been a little over a year since we hosted our first Sharing Solutions: Advancing Girls in STEM conference, and we are busily preparing for a follow-up symposium, which promises to be as engaging as the one we hosted in 2015. I wish I could say that in this past year, as a society, we have made great strides toward our goal of “fixing the leaky pipeline,” an analogy that has become the predominant one for the advancement of girls and women in STEM.
We left last year’s conference excited and hopeful, many of us energized to do more. And we did, in our corners of the world. A connection between our Agnes Irwin STEM Club and a group of girls at a local public school sprung up from our endeavors; many of our girls in the Lower and Middle Schools have benefited from the wonderful resources available through nearby Villanova University, and, of course, we are tremendously grateful for our partnership with the august Franklin Institute, where we are hosting this year’s conference.
We left last year’s conference excited and hopeful, many of us energized to do more. And we did, in our corners of the world.
But despite this and, I hope, many other wonderful connections made through the networking opportunities available at our event, there is still work to be done. And it is our hope that in a few weeks, we will make additional strides toward the outcome that we all seek: to attract and maintain robust numbers of women in STEM fields.
An in-depth survey of last year’s participants brought to the forefront the desire, on the part of the overwhelming majority, to grapple with the question of sustainable culture change. It is an unfortunate reality that in schools, in higher education and in the workforce, institutional cultures and society at large still push girls and women to the margins of STEM fields, resulting in a gender gap that is closing only very slowly.
Last year’s participants wanted to know how to create pervasive and lasting cultural change. Throughout the 2015 conference, we discussed three themes that we understood to make a significant positive difference in the advancement of girls and women in STEM: teacher training and curriculum design, role models and mentors, and partnerships. These themes still hold true today; what we are setting out to do in a few weeks is to bring these themes together to move closer to creating lasting change.
Last year’s participants wanted to know how to create pervasive and lasting cultural change.
This is the reason that at our upcoming conference, we will heed the call from last year’s participants and discuss sustainable culture change. Research has shown that there are many “islands of change” that have had positive effects in schools, but that these islands are not easily turned into “continents.” For true and sustainable cultural change to occur, we must move beyond what happens in a single classroom, department, school or corporation and scale the change so it becomes part of a new culture in which we close the STEM gender gap (Hargreaves & Goodson, 2006).
So let’s come together in a few weeks and do just that: let’s learn about the effective measures that have been implemented in K-12 schools, higher education, out-of-school programs, and the corporate world. Armed with this inspiration, let’s work together, across the silos of our professions, to change culture in sustainable ways. Let’s not just plug the pipeline that leaks girls and women out of STEM fields, let’s build a better one.
If you are up for the challenge, please do join us.
Mariandl Hufford, Assistant Head of School at Agnes Irwin & Director of the Center for the Advancement of Girls
See more posts from Mariandl at the CAG blog.