As a little girl, I wanted to grow up and be a farm broadcaster, an author, a senator, a TV personality with a talk show, or a concert pianist-I had lots ideas and it turns out I’m doing a few of those today. I ended up majoring in agricultural communications but I never really thought about what I was good at, or what strengths I could work to improve because I was an excellent student; I worked hard, liked school and learning, liked being the best-but lets be real here- in a rural small town, the curriculum wasn’t intense. I was even in Honors Math classes until seventh grade when a condescending teacher thoughtlessly informed me that I’d never be good at math if I was struggling to understand my first taste of Algebra I. I remember being told that ‘for girls like me’, I should stick to the easy stuff like reading and home economics. Wow.
I know many of you are nodding and relating right now.
I focused on the communications angle. In college, marketing, public relations, and the early graphic design majors were popular ‘for girls like me’ and I’ve found my way successfully. Still, back then no one encouraged K-12 girls to look at math or science – not schools, not college recruiters, and frankly not any parents that I knew. If you had a little trouble, no one offered a route to explore those subjects differently. This has to change – for very practical reasons – the high paying, career-advancing jobs are growing rapidly in fields like engineering, computer coding, and biologicals. Our own industry, agriculture, needs these skills as much or more than any other industry, too.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), analyzing U.S. Labor Department statistics, predicts a major shortage in qualified candidates to fill these positions in the near future, estimating that 510,900 engineering jobs will be open by 2024 with another 426,900 software development or programing positions lacking candidates. All these jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Women make sense as candidates to fill the void for the very simple fact that more women graduate college in the U.S. than men.
Fortunately, from what I’ve read recently, there is a trend at the college level to bring more young women into STEM-oriented majors and expose them to career options. Melissa Korn, writing for WSJ, reports that “women as a share of STEM-degree recipients at the bachelor’s level and above increased at nine of the ten largest such programs between 2012 and 2016.” That’s a fast advance, especially considering that Korn goes on to write “Six of these programs now award at least one-third of those degrees (STEM-related) to women.”
In looking at the WSJ graph I included in the post, I was encouraged to see that my two alma maters, University of Illinois (B.S.) and Purdue University (M.S.) have made at least marginal gains graduating women in sciences. But rightfully so – these are schools known for engineering and agriculture so they should be leading the pack.
I never considered engineering; I like reading, writing, and speaking much better than I ever liked math or even the science courses where I did well like biology. BUT-that was then and this is now. There were plenty of jobs available for what I wanted to do when I graduated in 1997. That is changing – it probably already has.
Encourage young women and girls to think differently. Independence, financial and otherwise, is directly tied to a women’s ability to earn a solid living and provide for herself and others in her care. As today’s girls consider their future earning power and career relevance, they must evaluate how to fit into the new economy. The great news is that agriculture is full of opportunities to use STEM-related skills!
ACT like a pro out there!