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Leon Kaye headshot

GM Boosts STEM Education for Girls and Women

By Leon Kaye

General Motors CEO Mary Barra has long been an advocate for girls enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Now GM is cutting checks to help more females enter these professions.

Last week, the automaker announced that it will contribute at least $850,000 to four non-profits that work with young women and minorities to boost their STEM skills. Barra noted during a recent conference in New York City that in the U.S., only 18 percent of computer science majors and 10 percent of information security professionals are women.

“We’re in the midst of transforming how our customers get from point A to point B with technology like autonomous vehicles, connectivity, electrification and car sharing,” said Barra in a public statement. “By expanding and improving access to STEM education, we’re developing teachers’ and students’ capabilities.”

Earlier this year, Barra claimed that during 2016, GM filled a position related to STEM every 26 minutes. Yet along with many companies, GM struggles recruiting women, and the gender gap within technical fields remains difficult to close.

The organizations to receive funds from GM are Code.org, Black Girls Code, Institute of Play and Digital Promise.

For GM, such a commitment goes beyond checking the boxes for diversity and corporate responsibility. As is the case with many manufacturing companies, technology shifts behoove businesses to hire more software engineers and other information technology professionals. GM is hardly immune from this trend, as projected changes in car ownership and the anticipated boom in self-driving cars forces the company and its competitors to become less of an automaker and more of a technology company.

But while the demand for STEM jobs is increasing nationwide, Barra acknowledged during an interview earlier this year that the number of available female job candidates is not. In fact, the percentage of computer science majors who are women is almost half of what it was during the 1980s. As a result, car companies are struggling to becoming the new technology companies of tomorrow.

"A car today has hundreds of millions of lines of code," Barra said last week during an interview with CNN. "We do see a shortage if we don't address this, and I mean fully fundamentally. Every child needs to have these skills."

As Fortune discussed a few years ago, some evidence suggests that women and girls who study STEM could end up on a rewarding career trajectory. Ginni Rometty, the first woman CEO of IBM, studied computer science and electrical engineering. Barra herself was an electrical engineering major. PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi was educated in physics, chemistry and math. Before she studied economics, Meg Whitman of HP persued math and science. And the chairwoman and former CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns, has a B.S. in mechanical engineering. True, men also have studied STEM on the way to stellar corporate careers. But advocates for engaging more girls and women in STEM fields should point to these successes as one of several motivating factors.

GM joins a roster of other companies that have become more proactive in convincing girls and young women to pursue education and careers in STEM. The cyber security company Symantec says it has a plan to engage 1 million students in STEM education by 2020, with the hope this effort can groom a more diverse workforce. Enterprise software giant SAP has included “STEM inclusion” within its corporate strategy.

While the gap between men and women in STEM professions still faces a stubborn divide, Fast Company has noted that three career tracks have a high percentage of women: health care information technology professionals, botanists and statisticians. Educators and business leaders would be wise to learn why these fields are more inclusive in order to make more young women feel at home in the world of science, computer programming and engineering.

Image credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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