This is part of a series of posts from nominees for our LifeChanger of the Year educator recognition program. We meet scores of fascinating LifeChangers every year who have interesting perspectives to share about children, education and life.
Girl Power! Girl Power is everywhere these days! What is it? Oxford Dictionary defines Girl Power as “attitude of independence, confidence, and empowerment among young women.1”
Females are making some of the biggest moves in history, according to recent news. “It’s about time,” a majority of us are saying. If “Girl Power!” has been around for all these years, since before the Spice Girls made the saying popular, and before Bikini Kill used it to label their Riot Girl movements — then, what took so long for the Power to be seen, heard, felt by the vast majority of the ladies out there?
Where did this sudden burst of Girl Power come from? Why did Wonder Woman just now get her first feature length film on the big screen? Why did #MeToo turn into a crusade that has changed so much? Why are women finally boasting a louder voice and being heard about equal pay?
Sometimes, the POWER has to be switched on. That switch is empowerment. What causes that empowerment, that confidence?
I have been doing a lot of research on igniting a stronger interest in females for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors and careers, engineering and computer science in particular. A couple of the major issues that I have discovered tend to steer females away from those areas are lack of confidence and a lack of role models.
The lack of confidence sometimes stems from females constantly being told that those areas are “for boys.” “Math is easier for boys.” “Legos and cars are boys’ toys.” “Getting dirty and making mistakes are things boys do.” “Technology is a boy thing.” It goes on.
Research shows that girls are more comfortable in a collaborative atmosphere, whereas boys are more competitive. Females want to help others and be helped, learn from others while working. They need that sense of camaraderie. Women are taught to maintain their cool and handle issues quietly.
These issues tend to cause a lot of females to allow themselves to sit back and let males take the reins in many situations.
I see this a lot in my engineering classes. This causes them to miss out on developing skills that could really benefit them in the future and still lack confidence in those skilled areas. Because they do not learn the skills, they still feel that they are not “good” at engineering and find another area they are more comfortable with to major in.
To change this, I started an afterschool STEAM Club for my high school females. In this all-girl atmosphere, I gave them the chance to work on their skills together, take the reins and guide each other.
They had been scared of working with power tools, thinking they may do something wrong or hurt themselves. I have had girls push boys out of the way during our robotics teams’ work times to show them how to properly work with the tools we use. We now have two all-girl competitive robotics teams, when there used to be only two girls on the one team we had when I first started.
My ladies are confident enough to go out into the community and discuss what they do with professionals in the engineering field, all because they were given the chance to step-up and build confidence with each other, not sit back and watch the boys work.
Females — well, most people in general — do not feel comfortable heading down a path unless they see someone like them succeeding down that path. It’s innate that if we cannot see ourselves succeeding in doing something, then we more than likely will not make an attempt.
I am an exception. I never saw a Hispanic female engineer before choosing my path. I’ll admit, I chose Interior Design first, which was completely female, and I felt completely out of place.
In my engineering and technology classes, I found my comfort zone. I was the only female a majority of time in my classes, but that never hindered me. I typically did better than the males in my classes. I decided to teach because I want to be a role model for younger females, to share my experiences and to show them that it can be done. Sometimes it just takes someone letting them know the option is out there, because they do not even realize it’s a possibility.
How often is a young lady who only goes to school and back home going to run into an engineer and hear about what they do. If one is not placed in front of them, then it’s possible never.
The #MeToo movement gained fire along the same way – the camaraderie developed over social media platforms with a common thread. Females were able to see others had similar experiences and they saw each other begin to speak up. This gave others the confidence to speak up and more and more.
Females are banding together to fight for equality in all areas. The empowerment is being developed from the collaboration and ladies heading down paths as role models and this has switched on that “Girl Power!” we are seeing everywhere.
We can use this same sense of empowerment in our STEM classrooms to boost the slim numbers of females choosing some STEM careers. Provide females with comfort zones to build confidence and introduce them to role models in pathways that may be of interest who are like them, that they can relate to.
Learn more about Tiffani Cortez on her LifeChanger of the Year profile.