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Three Ways to Empower Girls in STEM

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On Super Bowl Sunday, the Ad Council’s She Can STEM campaign, in collaboration with NBC’s TODAY, Deloitte Digital and IF/THEN, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, debuted a new PSA featuring TODAY anchors Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker, Craig Melvin and Carson Daly. The PSA, “Back in Time,” encourages middle-school girls to pursue their interests in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—by humorously envisioning the anchors as students in a 1970s classroom talking about what they hope to be when they grow up. In the daydream, modern STEM careers are possible, from 3D printing to analyzing data in the cloud, and girls rattle off their STEM dreams to the astonishment of the anchors. (Check out a behind-the-scenes segment on TODAY.com.)

The PSA also features STEM role models Tiffany Kelly, Dr. Mitu Khandaker and Karina Popovich, who are part of the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors Program to encourage more young women to explore STEM careers. Founded in 2019, IF/THEN seeks to further advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up half of the total college-educated workforce in the U.S., but constitute only 27% of the STEM workforce. Research shows that many girls lose interest in STEM as early as middle school, and this path continues through high school and college, ultimately leading to an underrepresentation of women in STEM careers. She Can STEM aims to dismantle the misperceptions associated with STEM by showing girls, non-binary youth, and trans youth how fun, diverse, messy and accessible STEM can be, encouraging them to dive in and go for it, no matter where they are in their STEM journey.

We asked the IF/THEN Ambassadors for their advice on how brands and corporate leaders can continue to encourage and empower girls and women in STEM. Here’s what they had to say:

Dr. Mitu Khandaker, CEO, Glow Up Games
“While it is important to empower women and girls in STEM by promoting visibility and opportunities to women who are already doing the work, these alone are not enough. I’ve learned as a woman in STEM myself, and increasingly as a leader of a diverse, women of color-led games company, that it is also necessary to provide the resources and institutional support to women and girls to meet those opportunities so that they can be set up to succeed.”

Karina Popovich, Creative Director & Founder, Inertia
“Companies in creative industries like fashion, music and design should showcase the tech behind their work. More girls need to see diverse career paths in STEM that intersect with creativity. I didn’t realize that I could be doing engineering at a fashion company, I didn’t realize that I could help create a future in which people are able to shop in VR, trace their clothing down to the location of where the fibers were grown, buy accessories as NFTs for their avatars and so much more. Putting female engineers at the forefront of Nike shoes or Alo leggings and sharing their stories will encourage more girls and people from various backgrounds to see STEM as an option for themselves. Industry leaders should be leveraging their brands to influence a culture that promotes STEM—this will help pipeline more representative talent and drive innovation.”

Tiffany Kelly, Founder & CEO, Curastory
“Brands and companies can empower girls and women in STEM by not only hiring them but retaining them. Putting money where their mouth is. Retaining them takes work, like making sure women are valued in their STEM roles, do not feel ‘othered’ or the only ones in their respective departments, and have agency without feeling their work is triple-checked or not trusted. I left a STEM job at ESPN because I was the only Black woman in a 400-person department, but now I employ female engineers in a thriving seed-stage, creator-economy tech startup backed by tier 1 VC investors. I wanted to do what wasn’t done for me in corporate spaces.”

On Super Bowl Sunday and beyond, brands and corporate leaders can learn a lot from girls and women in STEM. Tiffany, Mitu and Karina are changing the world with their STEM pursuits and creating more inclusive spaces for other women in STEM along the way. A more diverse, more innovative, collaborative and creative future is only possible when we focus on inclusion and belonging.