Gender gap in STEM education and workforce continues

STEM Panel at the World Food Prize 2015

Above left, Catherine Bertini, 2003 World Food Prize laureate, leads discussion on empowering women and girls through STEM Wednesday in Des Moines. Starting on the left Bertini,Chelsea Clinton, Robb Fraley, Kim Reynolds, Mary Wagner, and Michiel Bakker. (Photo by Jasmine Dell)

By Jasmine Dell

DES MOINES, Iowa — For advancement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), all demographics are needed, according to leaders in agriculture and development, including Chelsea Clinton of the Clinton Foundation. The US continues to fall behind when it comes to encouraging women in STEM and over 300 people  at the 2015 World Food Prize gathered Wednesday at the Marriott Downtown Hotel to discuss how to combat and improve this trend.

The lack of women in STEM fields could impair advancements in agriculture, the panel said.

Clinton described a single mother of seven children that lives in Tanzania and supports her family on the food she grows. The mother joined the Clinton Development Initiative’s and Anchor Farm Project, and because of the education she received on farming techniques the mother was able to increase her yields by 1,000 percent. The mother, Wazia Chawala, can now afford to send all of her kids to school, both boys and girls, and take care of her family, Clinton said.

Much of the STEM gender gap is due to discouraging women from participating in STEM programs at an early age, Robb Fraley, 2013 World Food Prize laureate and vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, said.

Fifty percent of the workforce is women in the US but only 24 percent are in STEM careers, Catherine Bertini, moderator and 2003 World Food Prize laureate, said. Empowering women to go into STEM jobs, she said, starts by recognizing the issue, and then introducing women early to STEM and giving them an opportunity to try a STEM job.

“The largest factor for a girl to go into computer science is social encouragement. Social encouragement is so much more important to girls than boys,” Bakker said.

Bringing academia and industry together on this issue, Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said, is a priority in Iowa. Iowa focuses on STEM by having a Governor’s STEM Advisory council. “[Iowa puts] $5.2 million to STEM Initiative.”

“There is a real call for technology and innovation that can change agriculture; that is the heart and soul of food security,” Fraley said.

Bertini encouraged everyone in the room to write down someone they would mentor in STEM, boy or girl.

The panel, moderated by Catherine Bertini, consisted of Chelsea Clinton, vice chair at the Clinton Foundation, Michiel Bakker, director of global food services at Google, Robb. Fraley, Kim Reynolds and Mary Wagner, global senior vice president research and development/quality, food safety and regulatory at Starbucks.

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