Driving Equality During Unprecedented Times Through STEM Education

This year has been challenging for all. Individuals, members of communities, and professionals alike have had to quickly learn how to navigate the effects of a global pandemic, as well as how to respond to and address institutionalized inequalities and racial injustice present within our society. In turn, one group that has disproportionately felt the impact of these crises have been women, and especially women of color.

A New York Times article recently shared that women are more likely to be employed as “essential” workers in industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Women, also disproportionately hold low-paying jobs, are more likely to be employed in industries with poor protections, and spend more time on unpaid domestic work than their male counterparts. Even more daunting, these figures are higher for women of color, who are also significantly more likely to be paid less, highlighting the depth of gender and racial inequality.

As the world enters a new decade of technological innovation, especially within the context of a global pandemic, it is increasingly clear the playing field is still far from equal. While as society, we have made a lot of progress across various fields, this is the moment to focus our efforts and investments on building a better world. One way to bridge this gap and create a more equitable future for all is by investing in equality in education with focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. 

Why is this so important? STEM jobs are a pathway for future innovations that are likely to build, drive and power our economies and benefit our lives for years to come. Yet, 73% of firms serving manufacturing industries, and 65% of those in information technology and accounting, finance, and insurance fields listed skill shortages as one of their top challenges. In the manufacturing industry alone, we are faced with a shortage of 2.4 million jobs by 2028 due to the lack of trained and educated youth entering the workforce. Similarly, consider that while women make up half of the U.S. college-educated workforce, they only make up 28% of the science and engineering workforce. Women are less likely to go into STEM fields than men, leaving them at a disadvantage. Without access to meaningful STEM training, girls and women often lack the skills and confidence in an increasingly STEM focused job market.

At the Caterpillar Foundation, we believe bridging the skills-gap and investing in girls through STEM education is the solution. Our approach to supporting program creation is not only centered around workforce development but also the critical wrap around services needed to prepare people for the future. We also invest in both student and teacher skill-building.Our investments equip students with hands-on learning opportunitiesand enable them to gain a deeper understanding of STEM skills. They also equip educators with tools, approaches and support to meaningfully engage their studentsto improve STEM skills.

As a partner of the United Nations Foundation since 2013, the Caterpillar Foundation has invested in a variety of programs primarily in the education and energy spaces internationally, and through the Girl Up initiative, will be supporting key leadership and training programs focused on STEM. In our most recent investment, we have been collaborating with Girl Up to develop a new curriculum for their STEM for Social Good Bootcamps, an initiative aimed to reach hundreds of girls through in-person trainings and thousands of girls online.

We believe that when girls have access to STEM training and tools to support their career development, the benefits are widely felt. And by combatting this skills gap, through education access and programs, we can equip girls and women with the tools they need to be successful and build a more equal future for all.

This year has highlighted one important fact – we are still behind in closing the skills gap and solving this challenge will take more than one industry or organization. While there’s more work to be done, this International Day of the Girl we look forward, towards solutions that will help create more opportunities and pave the way for the next generation of women innovators and leaders in STEM.

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