Empowering Girls to Reach Their Full Potential — Especially in Math

IndianaChamber clrKristin Tobler of Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis wrote a brilliant post about a new (and oh-so-swiftly removed) t-shirt from The Children’s Place that carried a startling message: girls are bad at math.

The shirt specifically said “My Best Subjects” and had a check list of shopping, music, dancing and math. Each one but math was checked and under math it said, “(Well, nobody’s perfect.)”

Quite frankly, this is the absolute wrong message to send to girls and young women – even if it’s only being delivered on a pint-sized shirt.

Tobler’s blog post ties in some interesting studies about girls (from a young age) being aware of the stereotype that boys are better at math. The studies show that awareness affects the way they view their education and career options.

Negative messages like these have real and serious consequences.

I get it, it’s a t-shirt – it’s not meant to be taken seriously or encourage young women to give up all pursuit of math for shopping. But the point is that we need to take a serious look at the messages that we sent to children and offer opportunities instead of limitations, whether those come on a t-shirt, through attitudes at home or in the media.

In Indiana, we have a real issue with the need for more STEM professionals (those in the science, technology, engineering and math fields). Employers are searching high and low for skilled workers to fill the many available jobs. And we need more Hoosiers, especially those in the female and minority category, going into these fields.

The Department of Commerce’s Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation revealed that women in 2011 made up just 24% of the STEM workforce, but that they earned 33% more on average than their counterparts in non-STEM fields. There are real, high-paying careers in STEM available for women.

That’s not the only consideration: We are swiftly falling behind the rest of the world in STEM. Data from OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) ranked American students in 2009 at 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics (out of 34 OECD countries).

Math can no longer have a negative connotation for girls and women. The future of our country depends on it.