by Teresa Fausey

Everybody’s heard about women and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and how not enough of us are choosing STEM careers.

I admit it. I didn’t. I write for a living.

Anyway, some brilliant folks at STEMconnector® decided to do the exact thing that’s most likely to make a huge difference in getting girls and women excited about pursuing STEM careers.

In collaboration with more than 40 leading national organizations, STEMconnector launched Million Women Mentors, an engagement campaign and national call to action that mobilizes corporations, government entities, nonprofits, and educational groups to support the mentoring of girls and women in STEM fields.

Over the past decade, the number of STEM jobs has grown at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs and 80% of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. require mastery of mathematics, scientific, or technical knowledge. However, although women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, only 24% of them are working in STEM fields.

Sadly, many women leave STEM degree paths despite doing well academically, citing uncomfortable classroom experiences and climate. And even if they do earn the required degrees, women are less likely to work in STEM fields. At every step along the way, their relatively small numbers, along with the less than welcoming and sometimes dismissive attitudes of instructors, classmates, and colleagues, discourages women from staying in STEM fields.

That’s where mentors can make all the difference.

Not only can connecting with women who have succeeded in STEM careers give students and new grads role models to emulate and the courage to take first career steps. Having a mentor can also help them stand up to sexist attitudes and unconscious biases in school and at work, and cope with the loneliness of being one of very few women in most classrooms and companies. Mentors also introduce them to people and organizations that can be important to their success throughout their careers.

According to The Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring, 18 million children in the United States currently want and need a mentor, but only three million have one. STEMconnector’s Million Women Mentors is looking for individuals who will pledge to mentor, and for corporations that will sponsor their efforts to connect mentors with, those looking to enter STEM careers. Sounds like an initiative everybody can get behind.