You don’t need the status of a globally-recognized, enduring pop icon to empower women. You just need access to video conferencing. And to be willing to share your life journey.
Because that’s one of the easiest ways to make a connection with a young student, and send her on the path to help fix the gross underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math.
The “I did it, you can do it, too” philosophy has encouraged more than one million professional women in STEM fields to sign up as mentors for female students, and inspire the next generation to greater involvement in technology through in-classroom conversations and demonstrations.
The video conferencing part of the equation means those mentors can potentially reach into every classroom in the U.S., and inspire every female student in the country.
Empowering Women in Science
The million STEM professionals mentioned above are actually all part of a single initiative. While it isn’t the only mentoring project in the U.S., the Million Women Mentors program can certainly claim to be one of the largest.
In November last year it did indeed lay claim to its one millionth woman mentor, and it has since doubled down by promising to find a million more by 2020. To date, the project has completed 650,000 mentoring programs, wherein a professional provides 20 hours of personal mentoring in a year.
Those hours go toward addressing the fact that women make up almost 50% of the workforce, but occupy just 25% of the STEM positions–for example, by 2020 it is predicted women will hold just 3% of the 1.4 million computing jobs in the US.
There’s clearly a need for some inspiring leadership.
Million Women Mentors work typically occurs on-site, in events like the emPOWER Tomorrow after-school program that targets 4th and 5th grade girls in New Jersey. That kind of personal experience makes a big difference for young people. So why not make it available across any physical distance by taking the lessons online, and making mentors available to an audience of protégés via video calling?
Motivational Speaking Online
Using a remote video conferencing link–even something as simple as Google Hangouts or Skype–lets STEM professionals visit any classroom that will have them, from the comfort of their own office. This obviously opens up more opportunities by reducing the financial and time cost of physical travel, and means a half-hour guest lecture at a school will actually take up only a half-hour of a mentor’s day. That could mean each mentor reaches their annual Million Women quota by touching the lives of children in 40 schools across the U.S.
And the online show can be just as spectacular as an in-school visit.
NASA is already conveying some complex ideas to young minds just by having experts speak remotely to students, accompanied by shared-screen visuals. However, as video conferencing is itself at the forefront of the next wave of STEM development, that static style doesn’t convey its real potential.
Simple virtual reality headsets are already capable of transporting video callers to interactive, 3D locations that better represent the future of STEM. There’s also much that can be achieved by projecting augmented reality images and interactive objects into a student’s world. It’s the perfect way to stage a chemistry experiment without the risk of explosion, or give mentees an in-person, up-close look at the work their mentor is doing in the real world.
VC can also host multimedia displays, videos, photos, and 3D graphics that can provide visual context to a mentor’s life story.
And that’s the point.
Video calling can bring the true life successes of women in STEM to a mass audience of young women, clearly defining a path from curiosity to career.
If you can see it, you can be it.
Image Source: Flickr CC User U.S. Embassy New Delhi