#STEMDad Manifesto

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Fellow dads, hear my rallying cry! I find it unacceptable that my daughters face an uphill battle.  I refuse to entertain the fact that the pay gap between men and women across the employment landscape is anything but abominable. I’m heartbroken to think that girls lose interest in STEM subjects during their middle school years so that they are damned to, what data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics & Statistics Administration depicts as, the scraps of the labor market – fewer job opportunities at lower pay.

I want to change all of that and I know there are many dads who feel the same. Dads have a lot to bring to the solution and I want to highlight the fact that girls have no more committed ally in fighting to change the status quo than their fathers, provided we go all in on the fight.

There’s a lot at stake. It’s well discussed that women and people of color are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, but the numbers around what that means to your daughter’s future are jarring. According to the Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. And STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings even if they decide to work non-STEM occupations.

So, there’s good reason for dads to take action and the first step in creating meaningful cultural change around #WomenInSTEM is creating a positive #GirlsInSTEM culture at home.

A Culture of Expectation

It’s no accident that my daughters are aiming for careers in STEM fields – marine engineering and marine biology. It was brainwashing… Years of constant, insidious effort went into developing their interest and capabilities in STEM, as well as expectations around STEM.

Traditionally, boys are expected to be interested in STEM-related toys like computers, robots, and building sets, so much so that those toys are often packaged in “boy colors.” Girls more often than not are expected to play with pink crap.

Those expectations carry through to adolescence, where a ground-breaking survey by the Girls Scouts of America shows that girls tend to lose interest in STEM subjects in middle school. By the time girls reach adulthood, National Science Board data show that a disproportionately low number of women pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields.

The challenge for parents is changing those expectations.

It’s a lack of expectations that drew only two other girls to my daughter’s 8th-grade coding class of 30 students. In the future, we as parents and as a society should expect to see girls make up half of that coding class and we need to raise our girls accordingly.

Dads are an important part of changing those expectations and because we represent the other side of those depressing, exclusionary statistics our commitment is critical.

#STEMDads Build #GirlsInSTEM

Jeff Stern from Girls Who Code points out in his HuffPo essay that men in the STEM world have a huge role to play in changing the culture around women and girls, but even us non-STEM men can have an impact – especially if we’re dads!

Simply engaging with your kids – not even in STEMy ways – makes a difference. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that the more time adolescents spend engaged with their parents the less likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol or engage in other risky or illegal behavior. They also achieve higher math scores.

For girls, strong relationships with their dads place them in a particularly healthy place when it comes to making their way in what is still very much a man’s world.

Girls whose dads are actively engaged in promoting academic or athletic achievements and encouraging self-reliance and assertiveness are more likely to graduate from college and to enter the higher-paying, more demanding jobs traditionally held by males, according to research from the Institute for Family Studies.

The good news is that there’s no heavy lifting involved in engaging with you daughter, but there are three key pillars on which to build your effort.

Sharing – I love science fiction, tinkering, and swimming in the ocean. I try to share those with my girls just as I would if they were boys. I also make a special effort to understand and enjoy the things that they love.

Talking – We talk about the stuff we share. Both of my daughters come to me with the craziest questions about what would happen if Darth Vader fought Voldemort or how long you can make a straw that can still suck or how hot it has to be for teeth to melt. The best questions are the ones that we have to answer together. Talking with my kids is one of my favorite adventures.

Playing – I started playing Legos with my girls as soon as they were old enough not to choke on the pieces. We do a lot of swimming together, we practice soccer, we dismantle solar powered lawn lights to see how they work, and whenever we play together, we learn. Sometimes we learn STEM stuff, sometimes we learn about each other, but whenever we play together we learn.

Dads are a powerful force in the lives of their daughters and it’s time to make sure that we’re focused on the serious situation that our daughters will face once they leave the nest to build their own lives.

There are already a lot of dads out there rising to the challenge, but we need more. Will you join the #STEMDad movement?