Gender Diversity in STEM and why it matters

Intel believes that education is a fundamental right for everyone and has worked for decades to improve education around the world. inGenious spoke to Brendan Cannon, Corporate Affairs Director at Intel Ireland, an inGenious Associate Partner, to understand more about the company’s commitment to girls’ education in particular.

“Over the past few years, Intel has seen overwhelming data showing that when more girls go to school, and stay there longer, there is a highly positive impact on their communities and their economies”, says Brendan.

“In Europe, luckily, we don’t have a problem with educational access for girls but we have a problem with female participation in science careers. We recognise that science is required to solve the biggest global challenges we face today, and if you just accept that women will continue to be under-represented in science, then you accept sub-optimal solutions”.

This is the logic that binds Intel’s considerable and long-standing corporate social responsibility investments in gender equality and education. In developed and developing countries alike, Intel is interested in ensuring that girls and women make informed choices: choices that enable them to be actors in their societies.

For Europe, this means helping girls to see the true value and potential impact of a career in science, technology, engineering and maths at the right time. That’s around age 12-15 years, when critical decisions about education pathways are made.

“We need the images of science and art to blur”, enthuses Brendan. “People have this perception of science as being cold, linear and about people in white coats and of art as being warm and creative. Science and art share common traits, careers in science are creative and provide critical insights into the future”.

Brendan also believes that parents and mentors need to be both aware and sensitive about their influence, and equip themselves with the best information available on careers.

“Traditionally, girls are drawn to the healthcare side of science because of its nurturing image. We need to get them to see that studying maths and science opens up careers that are just as important. We won’t find the best solutions to our big societal challenges like climate change, smart sustainable cities and renewable energy if we leave 50 per cent of the talent pool behind”, says Brendan.

Brendan goes on to describe Intel’s operations in Ireland where over 4,500 workers are engaged in the development of the latest microprocessor technologies. “Our factories are a living lab, an innovation engine”, he says, describing the company’s current work on 65 nanometre chips. That’s about the length your fingernail will grow in one minute. He goes on to cover the impact these miniscule devices are having on our appreciation of weather patterns; the 3-D modelling of the body they can enable and the computing power of Big Data to simulate the city of the future. Maths and sciences are the basic skills needed to develop and leverage such innovations.

In terms of core attributes, Intel attaches a high value to students with a background in STEM who have 21st Century skills sets - creative, critical thinkers and communicators who can work collaboratively in teams - and the company develops learning activities that aim to foster such skills. Some of these activities can be found in the inGenious practice database (Mathematical tools, Skoool Football). Intel also believes in nurturing teachers’ understanding of technology’s value in the classroom.

“Providing teachers with technology and teaching them how to use it is a critical part of preparing students for the future”, says Brendan.

Such is Intel’s enthusiasm for gender equality and education that it has just sponsored a movie called Girl Rising directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins with the participation of big stars like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchet and Alicia Keys to name just a few. Through the stories of real women, the movie boldly calls for girls and women in the developing markets to change their destiny through education and find their path. It is by far the most vocal step any company in the tech sector has taken to date in the area of women’s empowerment. But why has Intel taken this step?

“Because technology can be a bridge and an accelerator. Technology can help girls stay in school virtually when culturally they aren’t allowed to be physically present. Empowering girls with the tools, resources and opportunities they need to succeed transforms their lives and the lives of everyone they touch”, explains Brendan.

Recent Intel research PDF (9,93 MB) on the effects of the Internet gender gap in developing markets - its detrimental impact on women’s knowledge, skills and rights and the knock-on effect on the global economy - is also an interesting read.

The issue of diversity in ICT is “moving out of the side lines and into the mainstream”, says Brendan who, as the father of two young girls, is very excited about this change and Intel’s role in instigating it.

inGenious and Gender

The question of low female interest in STEM studies and careers is integral to the STEM education overall, and therefore, an important concern for inGenious. inGenious supported the European Commission’s Science: It’s a Girl Thing museum campaign last autumn which offered career advice and mentoring to hundreds of European schoolgirls. “I very much enjoyed meeting girls at the Leonardo Da Vinci Science Museum in Milan”, said Valeria Mordenti, marketing manager at education technology provider, SMART Technologies. “The exchanges I had with the girls showed there is interest in the tech sector but a need for wider communication on the range and potential of careers within it”.

Useful links

Intel Teach Program: For 12 year-olds, the Intel® Teach Program has helped teachers around the world integrate technology into classrooms and promote student-centered approaches to engage students in learning and prepare them with critical skills for success in our digital world.