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Boston Business Journal Features Op-ed by Simmons President and Girl Scouts of Eastern Mass. CEO

November 26, 2012

An op-ed by Simmons President Helen Drinan and Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts Chief Executive Officer Ruth Bramson appeared in the Boston Business Journal November 23. The op-ed, which is pasted below, discusses a recent study conducted by the Simmons College Center for Gender in Organizations and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts on how middle school girls view their careers options. The study was the focus of a recent conference at Simmons titled "Dreaming Big: What's Gender Got to Do With It?"

Girls need STEM encouragement

By Ruth Bramson and Helen Drinan

In the recent presidential election, both candidates talked a lot about women and jobs. This conversation is of great interest to those of us who have spent our professional lives advocating for women's advancement and leadership in the workplace.

Despite decades of effort, we are still having the same discussion. Gender-related social norms continue to influence the kinds of careers women pursue, holding girls and women back from achieving the highest levels of success and attaining jobs in emerging sectors such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This is particularly concerning given the anticipated rise in STEM jobs and the potential it holds for our economy. During the past 10 years, growth in U.S. STEM jobs outpaced non-STEM jobs three to one. According to a report commissioned by The Boston Foundation, there will be 100,000 job openings in the manufacturing sector here in Massachusetts in the next decade, many of them STEM-related.

Clearly, there is a lot of excitement about the possibilities for Massachusetts' future economy in relation to STEM. But to move forward we need more highly trained workers, both male and female.

A recent study released by Simmons College and Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts surveyed more than 1,600 middle school students in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, and found that girls — more than boys — do not see themselves in STEM careers. The study found that just 10 percent of all girls would choose a job in STEM, as compared with 32 percent of boys. Interestingly, the survey also found that girls who are Girl Scouts were nearly twice as likely to consider a career in STEM and/or business vs. non-Girl Scouts. What we have assessed from this data is that girl-serving organizations — along with parents, community organizations, and teachers — can have a strong impact on girls' perceptions of future career options, on their self-confidence, and ultimately their ability to achieve success. The challenge is how to prepare girls for jobs when they aren't drawn to these fields to the same degree that boys are.

For those of us who are dedicated to helping women and girls reach their full potential, this is a call to action. This issue goes beyond gender equity, and it reaches beyond Boston. There is huge potential for the future of our state and our nation if we can identify and counteract the signals that tell girls there are limits on what they can do.