In February 2022 Olay, the skin-care product giant, announced the latest phase of its #FaceTheSTEMGap campaign, which elevates past and present women leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in an effort to achieve gender equality in STEM fields by 2030.
For Amiya Chokhawala, a junior at the Harker School in California, this mission is more than a hashtag – it’s a lifestyle. Her nonprofit STEMher works to inspire more young women to embrace STEM learning and define themselves as scientists, coders, engineers and mathematicians.
On this episode of Future of the Business World (listen by clicking the arrow above), Amiya talks technology and her own persuasive brand of girl power that expands to six countries.
Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World, the podcast featuring innovative high school students from around the world.
I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Today’s guest has been on my podcast invite list for a while, ever since I first read a brief description of her work a year ago. I’m happy to say we are finally connecting to talk technology and her own persuasive brand of girl power.
Amiya Chokhawala is a junior at the Harker School in California. And like so many of our guests on Future of the Business World, she is a woman on a mission.
In middle school, Amiya enrolled in challenging tech-oriented classes like JAVA programming and robotics. The skills she was learning were inspiring, but the experience itself was isolating. She looked around the class and thought: where are all my fellow female tech warriors? She was often the only woman in the room.
She has spent the past several years working to change that dynamic.
Amiya, thanks for joining us on Future of the Business World!
The issue that has captured your passion is the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, sometimes referred to as STEM. How wide and deep is that gap?
Amiya Chokhawala: Of course there’s been a gender gap throughout history. In my opinion, the best way to put it is the history we have written in text books and that we teach in schools is a man’s history. And this is just reflected in STEM fields. Women make up more than 50% of our population and yet only 27% of women are in STEM careers. If you take a look at a field like software engineering, which is up and coming, they make up only 14% of that workforce. Yes, the gap is really deep and honestly now it’s only growing and it hasn’t shrunk at all in the past five years.
Wharton Global Youth: And it’s more than a matter of encouraging more women to pursue these fields. What have you observed around young women’s tendencies toward STEM learning? How are they processing things differently than their male peers, really starting at a young age?
Amiya: I’ve done a lot of volunteering, even before I started STEMher, working with young girls and teaching them STEM subjects. What I’ve noticed is that girls tend to raise their hands less. And when something becomes difficult they don’t ask a lot of questions and they quickly become discouraged and stop coming to the classes. I don’t think this is their fault at all. I feel like these tendencies are ingrained in our culture. And this unnecessary self-doubt is internalized at a young age. On top of that, I think the exposure that girls have to STEM is not the same as boys. You could even go with simple toys we get when we’re young. Boys get Legos and girls don’t. I myself did not play with Legos when I was young. I honestly believe if I was exposed to something like this it could have had an impact on my journey through STEM.
Wharton Global Youth: You’ve set out to do your part to change this narrative and the landscape for young women. Your nonprofit organization is called STEMher. What is your business model? How are you fostering an interest in all these important areas and providing support to young women?
Amiya: STEMher’s business model is girls helping girls thrive in STEM. I truly believe that when young girls see girls just a little older than them so successful, they are automatically inspired to pursue STEM themselves. We do this through three initiatives: workshops, a tutoring program and a Q&A initiative. Starting with the workshops, we have high school girls teaching girls ages 9-15 from around the world about topics like Web design and artificial intelligence that are not included in regular school material. Each workshop contains some kind of application. For example, during our web design workshop, we also taught product marketing, which provided the girls with the skills to create a business for themselves and a website for that. I really feel like the application part of our workshop gets the girls inspired and shows them potential career options, which is looking way into the future. But I think it’s crucial that we do that so that in the back of their heads they’re always thinking about that and what they’re going to do when they grow up.
The tutoring program is run through an app I created called STEMTutor, which connects struggling elementary and high school students with high school students for free tutoring services. This targets the school aspect. As STEM subjects get harder in middle school and high school, we really do not want the girls to become discouraged and start taking easier classes or just quit STEM altogether. By providing tutoring we hope they’ll continue to take these classes.
Lastly, we have the Q&A sessions. This has just started so we haven’t actually held any sessions. Here we’ll be having Q&As with successful women in STEM, starting with our amazing board of directors.
Wharton Global Youth: When did you actually start STEMher?
Amiya: We started in July 2020.
Wharton Global Youth: You have achieved a global reach. How many countries have you worked in? Can you give us a few examples of the people you’ve worked with?
Amiya: I’ve worked with young women in over six countries, including Libya, India, Nigeria and Belgium. One of the ways we do this is by partnering with schools. We’re currently partnered with two schools in India and one school in Belgium. Recently, I was given the opportunity to be interviewed by a radio station in the Caribbean, so I’m super excited for this and hopefully we’ll gain some partnership over there too.
Wharton Global Youth: And can you give us a profile of a typical student with whom you work?
Amiya: One girl I remember was so nervous at the start, but at the end she was so excited that she presented her project for 10 minutes and it was the most amazing thing to watch. Her name was Vaidehi from Nigeria. She was 12 years old and this was the first workshop of ours that she attended. It was a Scratch programming workshop, and by the end of the workshop she had mastered all the skills we had taught her. It was truly the most inspiring thing to watch her present.
Wharton Global Youth: I noticed you have achieved a global reach. I also recall that you were planning to travel to countries like Morocco and India to teach girls how to create sustainable thermal cameras and solar lamps. I’m sure the pandemic has interfered a bit with those plans. Can you talk about that? Why those specific technologies, and what are your motivations behind that hands-on science exchange?
Amiya: Like you said, we haven’t actually been able to travel to those countries, but I’d like to do that this summer. Starting with thermal cameras, they will help detect the temperature of whatever is in the camera’s view. So, for example, a person. During COVID times it would be really helpful for someone to be able to take their temperature to see if they’re sick. And having the girls make this is again the application thing. They can see what they can build and create themselves. I think this is crucial. Rather than just teaching them concepts and then leaving it at that, I really want them to create something for themselves and see what kind of impact they can make. The solar lamps are for girls who need to study at night but don’t have access to electricity. In India, over 40% of schools did not have electricity until 2017. If the schools don’t have this much electricity, you can only imagine what the homes are like. If the girls don’t have the opportunity to do their homework or study at night, they really have no time at all because most of them are working, as well. Teaching them to build solar lamps is crucial.
Wharton Global Youth: As a woman in STEM, you no doubt love the face-to-face or tech-to-tech interactions. And yet, sustaining a nonprofit with lots of moving parts can be a big job. What have you learned, for example, about securing funding partnerships to make your global tutoring possible? What has the operational side of your nonprofit taught you about entrepreneurship.
Amiya: STEMher is run entirely by girls volunteering their time. This has worked well for us for a while, but as we start to get bigger, it’s hard for us. We’re all in school and we don’t have 40 hours a week to devote to this organization. And we do need funding to fund our tutoring program, for example. I’ve recently been looking into funding partnerships. We just got our first one. But it was definitely a struggle. I did not realize the amount of planning and patience it takes. I had to write a full-out budget for the first time in my life. It took three or four drafts and many meetings with the organization that was going to provide us funding. In the end, we got it. What I’ve learned is that you just need to have a lot of patience when you’re doing something like this.
“It’s really important that different perspectives are brought into the making of technology, because that technology at the end of the day is going to be used by all sorts of people.”
Wharton Global Youth: Bias is not just evident in the STEM gender gap. It’s pervasive in other parts of our increasingly technology-driven society. You’ve done some thinking about bias in artificial intelligence. I happened to spot a blog on your website. What have you learned about this and do you think it’s improving?
Amiya: Just to explain what bias in AI is. Artificial Intelligence works because it’s trained with data and learns from it over time. The data it’s being trained with are documents from the past, which include historical bias like discrimination against race, gender and more. The Artificial Intelligence learns from these biases, which creates inaccurate results and an overall lack of fairness for certain groups of people. So, I have talked about this topic in more detail in my article and provided potential solutions. Yes, I do think that this area is improving because there are already many tools out there. But since this bias is not well-known, until we really make people know about it, there won’t be as much improvement as we’d like.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s adapt that same question to your work as an advocate for gender equality in STEM. Are you seeing progress there? And what will it mean to have more gender equity in all these areas: science, technology, engineering, math?
Amiya: We are making progress, but not as much as we should. The 1970s-1990s [saw] a lot of progress when women first started working. Since the 90s, the graph has basically plateaued and even declined in some areas. For example, women computer workers has declined from 32% in the 90s to 27% now. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence and all those models being created by men, I’m really concerned for women and especially women of color. In innovation, if you just have one perspective, the quality of the technology won’t be the same as when you have different perspectives. It’s really important that different perspectives are brought into the making of technology, because that technology at the end of the day is going to be used by all sorts of people. But if you just have one demographic of people making it, it has an impact on the quality of the technology.
Wharton Global Youth: You’re joining us this summer for our Leadership in the Business World Program. What will you share with your peers about the power of greater equity and equality in STEM fields and how that can transform the business world?
Amiya: Similar to what I just said, I think I would like people to know the impact of diverse management on boards [of directors]. In a study by McKinsey, companies with gender-diverse management are proven to consistently outperform companies without this diversity. Since that study, many states and countries have passed laws that require gender diversification of public companies’ boards. In California, public companies are required to have a 30% management board. I really think this is important. My personal point of view is that having a diverse group of management means that each person brings their unique perspectives. This will obviously always create and improve technology. I would really like to share that with all the other students who are attending Leadership in the Business World.
Wharton Global Youth: Early on you mentioned that you too have a board of directors. How have you put that together?
Amiya: One of the people on my board of directors was actually my computer science teacher in my sophomore year of high school. I asked her recently. The other two women on my board I have met through different networking events, which I’ve done with other organizations I’m part of. One of them is an orthopedic surgeon and one of them has her own startup that uses AI in thermal camera technology.
Wharton Global Youth: What would be a parting shot you might say to all the young women out there that you haven’t helped yet through STEMher. A lot of them might feel intimidated by this material and they might feel intimidated as the only woman in the room. You’ve been there. You know how that feels. What would you say to them?
Amiya: I’d say to find a group of supporting people. This doesn’t have to be all girls, it could be guys as well. When you’re starting your journey in something really difficult like STEM, you need a group of supporting people. You need an advisor. You need some person. You can’t do it alone. I tried doing it myself alone and it was really difficult. Once I found a teacher who could help me or a friend it was so much easier. I did my first STEM project with one of my friends and after that I gained so much confidence and I was able to do things by myself and even start my own nonprofit. So I think it’s crucial to find a group of people who will support you throughout your journey.
Wharton Global Youth: One question I like to ask all our guests on future of the business world is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Amiya: This is unrelated to gender equality in STEM. But I really believe it’s what I would change. The U.S. government spends around .5% of its budget on NASA and .1% on the space program. If I could, I would triple the amount of spending. It would create a new era of scientific innovation and opportunity. I really believe with climate change and all that is happening on our own planet, looking into colonizing another planet like Mars would be very beneficial because even though it sounds scary, I think it’s something that is going to happen in our near future.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Try to answer these questions as quickly as you can.
Something about you that would surprise us?
Amiya: I’m vegan and it’s mostly for animal and environmental reasons.
Wharton Global Youth: The last time you felt really outside your comfort zone?
Amiya: Right now. I’m not a great public speaker.
Wharton Global Youth: An area of business that you would love to explore more deeply?
Amiya: Human capital management. I think for businesses, people are the most important part. I keep reading stories about large companies like Facebook and Google where people are unhappy. I’d really like to look into this.
Wharton Global Youth: What would you be caught binge-watching at midnight?
Amiya: Bates Motel.
Wharton Global Youth: A business person you would love to take to lunch and why?
Amiya: Elon Musk. I’m really fascinated by his persona and his goals for humanity.
Wharton Global Youth: What one word would you use to replace the acronym STEM?
Amiya: Socially responsible technology. Technology that is not socially responsible is not helpful at all.
Wharton Global Youth: Amiya, thank you so much for joining us on Future of the Business World.
Amiya: Thank you for having me.
Have you ever felt the intimidation factor that Amiya Chokhawala describes? Fear to raise your hand or ask questions? Describe your experience in the comment section of this article.
Why is gender equality so critical in STEM, the corporate board room and other business settings?
Why are there biases in Artificial Intelligence and what effects do they have?
Unfortunately, Amiya’s noted intimidation factor is real. Despite my professed love for STEM, when I get to college, I’ll have to face the reality that I’ll be studying hard only to earn less money than my male counterparts in the future. US companies will pay salaries of about $62,000 a year for female-dominated majors and $90,000 a year for male-dominated ones. Why? The answer lies in history; STEM fields exist in a socially constructed system developed and dominated by white men. The Smithsonian notes that science itself developed from the European Scientific Revolution influenced by colonialism and imperialism. This European and Western scientific world places white men at its center. As gatekeepers of this white social construct, they decide what is worth studying and who gets to conduct this research. Fitting into this ideal identity becomes difficult for women especially young women like myself. Many women encounter social and institutionalized barriers at an early age. Traditional male professors may feel that women just aren’t good enough to reach the highest levels of STEM. Per a 2020 California Institute of Technology review, only about 20 to 30% of women were awarded PhD degrees in the physical sciences. Furthermore, very few of us are promoted to full-faculty positions or become deans and university presidents. Most of us in academic STEM will remain as postdocs, lab assistants, and nontenured faculty.
Wow! The messages expressed in your article are a breath of fresh air in today’s society, Amiya.
Amiya touched on several important ideas that span the spectrum of differences in learning behavior among boys and girls. Entrepreneurs like Amiya are inspiring because they recognize problems from their day-to-day life and attempt to address them through businesses that spread knowledge and awareness on a larger scale. I found her work particularly impressive because I have witnessed manifestations of the same STEM gender gap in my own personal experiences as a tutor and as a student. In my experiences tutoring middle school and elementary school math, I have also noticed that girls tend to get discouraged more easily and adopt a mindset that it’s not possible for them to be “good” at math. Additionally, the statistics of women in STEM that are introduced remind me of the gender gap in STEM at my high school. As a rising senior from a competitive STEM based school, the tendency for males to dominate in STEM has become commonplace. For example, the overwhelming majority of students on the Math team are males, with only 7 females in the rising senior class of 30. Other courses like Advanced Calculus, Physics, and computer science follow a similar trend.
During the interview Amiya brings up a very strong point regarding the female perspective in technological development. Amiya argues that innovation would benefit from having the perspective of females and people of diverse backgrounds. Gender bias in the STEM field is still extremely prevalent, especially in Physics, Math, and Computer Science career paths. My belief is that female representation in STEM has a very clear impact on society and innovation. Furthermore, it is a growing concern as technology becomes more and more interwoven into our lives. Women have the potential to provide a more balanced view in tech companies by providing perspective on female issues and proposing new ideas for innovation. When men dominate the academic and technology sectors, the needs of females become increasingly ignored in the development of products and services for consumers.
Several products showcase the lack of gender diversity and highlight the need for greater female input. Considering the iphone and its dimensions over the years, each new model exhibits an upward trend in phone size. The iPhone has become larger than the average female hand size. On average, women’s hands are about an inch shorter than male counterparts making phone safety and security an alarming issue. It’s quite ironic that Apple, a company that promises safety, innovation, and inclusivity, seems to have neglected the female demographic in their product design. CPR mannequins are another great example. Almost all CPR mannequins lack breasts, a fact that I noticed while I’m in the process of completing my lifeguard certification tests. This unfamiliarity actually makes it less likely for women to receive CPR in public, resulting in a 23% higher survival rate in public resuscitation for males.
Other products include police stab vests and safety goggles. Ill-fitted equipment and gear resulting from the lack of female perspective in STEM could even discourage women from pursuing advanced degrees. These types of issues were summed up by Biologist Jessica Mounts, executive director of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, when she explained to BBC that most science equipment she had used was designed for men. “The problems caused aren’t simply an annoyance – they all go back to personal safety,” she says. “Clothing that is too loose gets caught in moving equipment. Boots that are too big mean tripping and falling.”
Combined with subtle societal expectations and stereotypes, all of this amounts to women being psychologically pushed away from STEM starting from a young age.
The article presents this issue in a personal context, such as how it places small groups and communities at a disadvantage. I want to highlight that this issue is also vital to our nation’s security and economic well-being. The Spartans are a famous (and rare) example of a civilization that implemented full women’s equality. The success of the Sparta city-state and their unmatched prowess in war has led them to be the most well-known and revered city in Classical Greece. Spartan women were given a formal education and were also taught self-defense and athletic skills. In marriage, Spartans regarded their wives as equal partners and accepted each other’s influence. Much to the chagrin of Greek philosophers, the Spartan state allowed women to own over 40% of the Spartan land: women were also able to govern their family estates. The Spartans recognized that both men AND women were equally vital to the success of the state. From a more modern perspective, countries that actively include women in the workforce experience greater economic growth, meaning more employment opportunities. In a study conducted by the World Bank of 100 countries, for every 1% increase in the population of educated girls, the country’s GDP would increase by .3%– amounting to about “15 trillion to 30 trillion USD in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.” Furthermore, Gallup, an American analytics and advisory company reports that companies managed by women have more motivated workers and higher productivity.
While the gender gap issue in STEM is one that has roots connecting thousands of years back, it is important to recognize that adopting a more inclusive STEM environment has serious benefits not only for innovation, but also for nations across the globe. Entrepreneurs like Amiya are moving a step in the right direction.
Thank you for sharing this incredible podcast, Knowledge @ Wharton!
Hi Justin! Your comment is amazing, and I feel inspired by what you wrote. Although I’m living in a different country, my situation is somewhat similar to yours, and the observations that you made through tutoring remind me of my own.
Since middle school, my peers have asked me for help with math questions, and I have tutored middle and primary school math as well. The majority of students that I have helped are girls, and through this process, I often hear them express sentiments such as, “I’m too stupid, I can’t do math,” and “math is only for intelligent people, not for me.” This is quite similar to your finding that “girls tend to get discouraged more easily and adopt a mindset that they can’t be “good at math.” I am fortunate to never have struggled in math nor felt discouraged; however, I have witnessed a lot of real-life examples from my peers through tutoring. Different from your school, my high school has more of an emphasis on the arts. In 11th grade, my school separates classes through levels—standard and high level, and this is where I noticed an interesting situation. With one exception, all male students in my grade choose high-level math, while my friend and I were the only two girls in our grade who took this course.
I think that stereotype is a key factor in the ongoing issue of girls’ discouragement around STEM fields. Society tends to correlate one’s intelligence with their performance in STEM areas, especially math, and the common unconfident thought of “I’m not smart enough” creates a barrier for people to learn math, especially girls. Even though this issue has been identified and studied for years, stereotypes still exist where boys are perceived as more “logical” and “intelligent,” qualities believed to be suitable for STEM areas, while girls are believed to be more “emotional” and “sensitive,” characters typically associated with arts fields. In Chinese culture, there’s an underlying idea that If you are good at STEM, you are good at everything, and the arts are for people who are bad at math or science. I imagine this is true in other countries as well.
These stereotypes can create a vicious cycle of discouragement: girls sense at a young age that they are not suitable for STEM, and they lose interest in math and science fields. They develop an underlying feeling of shame that they are less intelligent and become less engaged in foundational STEM classes. This creates a learning deficit that leads to difficulties in higher mathematics and other STEM subjects, such as physics and chemistry. As a result, many girls will become discouraged from pursuing STEM, further deepening entrenched stereotypes. As you noted, they are “psychologically pushed away” from STEM fields, even if they are fully capable of learning math and science.
To eradicate this stereotype, society needs to first eliminate the bias of correlating mathematical ability with intelligence and gender. Similar to what Amiya said in her article, the key is to “find a group of supporting people.” As students, we can build confidence in girls by creating STEM clubs for girls at different levels. It’s also important that girls can connect with other girls in STEM classes and with mentors. For example, I attended a leadership conference for high school girls earlier this summer where an entire day was devoted to connecting attendees with female leaders in tech companies. The experience gave me more confidence to stay focused on my goals, even when I’m the only girl in the room.
Like you have said, it’s vital that we have women’s voices in product development and every aspect of the business world. However, until we warmly welcome girls to STEM classes and clubs and build up their confidence and desire to pursue STEM careers, it’s very difficult for us to see this type of representation in the professional world.
Justin, your thoughtful response encapsulated so many of the thoughts I’ve had regarding the distinct gender-gap which can be found within many STEM fields. You eloquently and persuasively conveyed your ideas, even incorporating some facts that I never even knew before, like the role of women within Sparta!
Seeing you discuss the gender gap within your school, my thoughts immediately trailed to my experiences at my own school. Although my school is strongly female dominated (66% vs 33%), there is a notable lack of female students within our school’s computer science classes: on average, less than a third of the class identify as female. Beyond just courses, these trends remain through clubs, teams and extracurriculars, like our ModIT club and even Robotics.
I also strongly agree with your claim that your (and Amiya’s) claim that representation from women of diverse backgrounds is essential: your discussion of both the trend of ever-increasing sizes of iPhones and ill-fitting equipment was completely spot on! From my own experience, I understand the frustration of dealing with improperly fitting equipment. Seeing my mother, who was a healthcare worker, go into work wearing ill-fitting PPE at the height of Covid was incredibly disheartening. Upon looking into the details of PPE production, I learned that PPE is generally produced according to the dimensions of the average male. In fact, many of these measurements used in protective equipment development are taken from studies using data from the 1950s and 1970s military personnel and the general population, according to an article from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. As such, this data is not reflective of today’s population. The oftentimes customary recommendation of simply sizing down doesn’t always work, resulting in women receiving gear fitting oversized on the shoulders yet too slim for the hips. Therefore, a disconnect is created between the size of PPE and the professionals who need to wear it, leading to an environment in which safety hazards are able to arise, ranging from gloves that may slide off to hard hats which are fitted improperly. I believe that all individuals, no matter their gender, should be able to have access to properly fitting safety equipment, and integrating product designers with diverse perspectives is key in conducting that.
Progress is already being made. Last year, the American Medical Association passed a resolution to “encourage the diversification of PPE,” and there continue to be innovations and advocates for gender equality within both the world of PPE and STEM.
Fostering gender equality begins with female representation and presence in high school STEM clubs, then to equipment production (like PPE) and product design, and so forth. I believe that all of these reforms need to happen together to make STEM a more welcoming and inclusive space for women, which will in turn encourage more women to enter the space, ultimately creating a positive cycle of change.
It’s been great reading your response and seeing another perspective on this topic, Justin! And as always, this was an amazing episode, thank you Knowledge@Wharton!
Does the word president, STEM, CEO, athlete, doctor, and soldier have any connotation referring to a specific gender? Why do people say “female president” or “female athlete” if not? These are some cryptic questions that I always had about our society. From a young age, I was told by my parents to make sure not to spread my legs, even when sitting at the table for a family dinner, because it is unfeminine and inappropriate. However, I still remember being shocked on my first day to school, when Jenny, my best friend, spread her legs wide apart while sitting next to me on our school bus. Like Amiya, I later learned that what I have been told by my parents is the prime example of systematic “tendencies…ingrained in our culture…[like how] boys get Legos, and girls do not.” Furthermore, these gender stereotypes that have been implanted by the toxic culture and wrong educational practices at a young age creates a mental obstacle for women to pursue their dream or their career in different industries. Realizing this from my own childhood experience, I envisioned myself becoming a social leader who promotes an equitable society through degenderizing the existing gender stereotypes, in our media and empowering women around the world.
In forging the foundation for this dream, I ventured through different leadership opportunities in American International School of Guangzhou to become a role model who can empower other female students through my exemplary actions. In my sophomore year, I was elected as the coordinator of the Athletic Council. As I am heading towards my 2nd year as a coordinator, I have noticed that only three out of fifteen members are female students. Furthermore, following the Athletic Council’s vision of further encouraging the school spirit, Emily and I were recruiting different grades to join our soccer team. When we tried to encourage joining the school’s sports program to female students, many of the students said words along the lines of “soccer is for boys.” Even my best friend, Rachel, said, “my parents said I should join the orchestra club.” In endeavoring to find the reason behind why female participation is low in our school’s sports program, I realized that many of the female students were educated to think that tough sports are preoccupied for male students. The bigger problem is that these gender biases in the educational system later develop as an ideological stereotype that gets deep rooted in the culture of different societies. Even in Korea, I have witnessed the prejudices that older generations have towards young females. While most of my parents’ friends told me I am too “active” to be a daughter, I was questioned why boys got to play with newer soccer supplies, whenever we have trained with the boys’ varsity team.
Even now, it has been proven by UNESCO that while 40% of professional athletes are female, they receive less than 4% of the media coverage. This indicates that female athletes receive less support and care. This could also lead to more female athletes to abstain themselves from participating in sports and also lead them to show pusillanimous attitudes towards training and competitions.
As a next step in achieving my identity as a role model for growing females of the next generation, I am eager to create more possibilities for preventing gender inequality in sports. Like the STEMher that Amiya Chokhawala has created, I have also tried to provide a variety of solutions that could promote gender equality in our school:
1. I started with something small, which was motivation. I tried to ask my friends first to join sports. This may not be much of a motivation, but it is still not wrong to try asking.
2. I tried my best to become a role model, and I thought becoming a captain would be the best way to show a role model to the team and the school community. In addition, by becoming a captain, I have also promoted more significant participation of female soccer/ volleyball players. In sophomore year Cindy, Yeonseo, Clare, Minju, and Bonny participated in our soccer season, and some of them also participated in volleyball season as well.
As a coordinator of the Athletic Council, I have planned different ways to target parents in our community to promote our school program. For events like an international day or Family fun Day, many parents gather in our school to look at different community services. During those events, I promoted our school program to parents and encouraged them to open their ingrained minds about sports. Since many cognitions regarding sports come from parents due to the environment and culture they have grown up in and how they were taught when they were young. Therefore, targeting the parents helped and allowed many female athletes to participate in our school sports program. In addition, I have heard many positive results from these solutions because many parents asked me or have a positive mindset about sports.
After reading this article, I became ensured of who I truly aspire to become: a leader like Amiya who empowers and provides more equitable opportunities for women of a younger generation. With this dream, I now look to build a non-profit organization that nurtures female coaches for youth sports in the near future, hoping my daughters would live in a gender-equitable world where one’s ability and dreams would not be judged by their gender.
What is the fundamental cause of this massive gender gap in our society? Listening to the podcast made me wonder about this question. I strongly agree with Amiya that a lack of STEM exposure for women and societal discouragement towards women to work are a few crucial factors. Though I have always recognized that there are fewer numbers of female students in all my STEM classes, I was still startled when Amiya mentioned that “women make up more than 50% of our population and yet only 27% of women are in STEM careers.” Although there have been several women’s liberation movements to reduce gender inequality in our society throughout the past decades, it still remains a serious ongoing issue.
Listening to this podcast reminded me of my mother’s life as a tomboy, fighting against my grandparents, who taught my mother to become an obedient daughter and ‘good’ wife, like many other Korean women in the 1970s. Undaunted, she did not give up on her academic talents, putting in a tremendous amount of effort to overcome the gender stereotypes that existed — and still exist — as a barrier in Korean society to pursue her dream of becoming a reknown biologist. Being the only female researcher among the twelve other male colleagues in her laboratory, she experienced various gender discriminations. Often being ignored for her works because of her gender, it was part of her daily routine to hear phrases like: “why don’t you just move to another lab if you think you are that talented?” or “don’t be a drama queen,” “why are you being so picky and bossy?” Dreaming of becoming a biologist, she was always dedicated, yet not fairly treated by colleagues and her boss like other male scientists. Even though many of her research outcomes explained many of the unanswered scientific questions, she later had to quit her life as a biologist, after she had to take a year’s rest for maternity leave.
Listening to her story as a fellow woman, who also dreams to conduct research of my own about ‘the economic efficiency of the fair trade policy,’ I envisioned myself becoming a social entrepreneur who leads others to join my cause of eliminating the persisting gender inequality.
As a small step to promote gender inequality in our society, in the first year of my school, I joined the ‘Humanities Opened Platform for Everyone’ (HOPE) club that aims to solve the ongoing societal issues. After noticing that gender inequality is a crucial topic that I must raise awareness about, among students in our generation, I have initiated a ‘Girl’s Book of the Month’ program, where club members gathered monthly to discuss a book about ways to promote women’s rights. One of the most interesting discussions out of many, was when we gathered to talk about ‘Feminism is for Everybody,’ written by Bell Hooks, an African American author and a social activist, who had passed away last year after devoting her whole life to promoting racial, gender, and class equality in American society. I was dazzled when I read about Ms. Hook’s solution of not only acknowledging the disparities caused by a gender gap but also upholding gender equality by empowering the female minorities to become stronger leaders or role models for each other.
From the discussion, I learned that it is significant to raise awareness of the unfair treatments that are impacting females in this society, like my mother’s story. So, I launched ‘Stem Girls’, which is a student-run organization that promotes several STEM-related activities in a local girl’s elementary school. This will allow young female students to experience easy hands-on activities such as science fest and math games, and find friends who are also interested in a STEM field. After a year, I discovered that all of the existing stereotypes about gender, such as ‘girls like dolls and boys like robots’ are clearly wrong prejudices. Most of the female students that I thought also enjoyed solving math puzzles and mini-labs with their peers when the opportunity was given.
Despite the global importance of science, engineering, and math-related fields, women, or 50% of the global population, are consistently underrepresented in these areas. My experience has made one thing clear: the disparity exsits due to the prevalence of gender stereotypes that constrain women’s performance and interest in the STEM field, in which people are treated differently based on gender. From the small and important steps that I take to promote gender equality, I hope to build a society where both girls and boys of the future generations will be living in a gender-equal world.
“Women make up more than 50% of our population and yet only 27% of women are in STEM careers.” Coming from an all-girls school strong in sciences, half of my peers are looking into STEM careers, so, I agree, I never believed that women are naturally less capable or interested in STEM than other genders.
I see so many girls like your mother fighting tirelessly in the STEM field but encounter hindrances because of their gender. Some hinderances are more noticeable and others underlying. They prevent women from being able to see possibilities, to dream, and to fight.
I am taught to become “the obedient daughter and ‘good wife’” to take care of family responsibilities and dress properly. In terms of academics, my family always had the sayings of “female PHD,” “the logic of a girl,”and “don’t choose a STEM pathway because rarely are girls capable of it.” My mother, as a medical researcher, hates being called “female PHD” although it was supposed to show respect, it communicates that girls are not expected to get a PHD; and hates “the logic of a girl” which, although was told to her to appreciate her novel approach to understanding, communicates that girls are different. I have been suggested to not choose a STEM pathway so I always feared going into any STEM classes, believing, deep inside that it is too difficult for me. Breaking through that took so many contemplation and struggle.
Beyond mental discouragements, some women are not able to get the help they need, ones that they would otherwise get if they were male. My friend was refused a physics tutor because she was a girl; I barely had any friends to help me out in my electrical engineering class because as a introverted six grader, I was too nervous to talk to boys; I have never been exposed to logos and electric models in kids toys like boys would have which could be beneficial in future STME learnings.
That being said, I am extremely appreciative of your and Amiya’s initiatives, to offer workshops tutoring programs to support their knowledge and learning; Q&A sessions to mediate the fear STEM posed on women since a young age; and discussions raising awareness on women’s rights. They give us opportunities to learn and courage to continue.
I have been interested in sports medicine a few years ago until my grandmother convinced me that STEM is difficult for women and I was fearful of taking advanced biology classes and opportunities at the time. I, luckily, was able to break that with the influence of my friends. At that time, I remained passionate about sports medicine, but was drawn back to pursue it considering the shocked look, staring into my soul as if they were staring a sin out of me, a family friend gave me when they knew many girls like STEM.
Realizing that confidence, support, and courage played such an important role in my decision, I dedicated much of my efforts into mental resonance and building confidence in girls which would help them in and beyond the STEM field, for any dreams they have. I always believed that with confidence and developed passion, one can overcome any learning difficulties and fight themselves a spot in the STEM field. That belief came from my career, which I luckily developed with remarkable passion, in rhythmic gymnastics where my passion took me through parental doubts and lack of training resources to become the first high-performance athlete that grew up in Beijing.
I continued that pursuit via arts. I post on Douyin and Youtube with a theme in emotions, I dance, train, and edit to present the perseverance and passion that an unsupported pursuit needs. I also post on Bilibili recording training vlogs, the hard work and challenge I overcome on a daily basis. I forever remember when a follower privately messaged me that she followed me from Douyin to Xiaohongshu then to Bilibili for the motivation my videos gave her. She is a student in quantum physics and has not been supported by her family, but she said my videos gave her the confidence and courage to continue the pursuit that she loves by resonance and presentation of hope.
I tutored younger students in public schools and on Upchieve in sciences and math to give students the help they need on their way to success. I also make sure to further their reach into the subject via giving insights to different problem solving approaches and interesting concepts which are what brought me interest in STEM. Understanding concepts is crucial to enjoyment of the subject and development of one’s full potential and tutoring is an easy way to achieve it. I am proud of students being curious about academic subjects, and I will do my best to support them and further it. I can only imagine if I were given that or were my friends that gave up STEM had that opportunity to learn.
Prevailing gender stereotypes makes women’s career in STEM difficult via discouraging emotions and lack of opportunities. We are, hopefully, moving towards equality by providing not only learning opportunities and career insights, but also by working with general emotional encouragement and basic education. Our micro-steps towards opportunity for women and equal access to education is worthy as any help achieved, as small as for a single individual, is invaluable.
Amiya’s interview clearly outlines the causes and consequences of the gender disparity in STEM. She supports her analysis not only with statistical evidence but also with her personal anecdotes. For example, she claims that she was able to observe an ‘intimidation factor’ from the girls she met while volunteering. Personally, this phrase seemed to perfectly label the driving force behind the inequality that my female friends and I have also been influenced by as female students who are considering a future in STEM. Listening to Amiya’s voice, I reflected upon my disheartening memory of witnessing Clara, my best friend and one of the brightest peers I have seen, giving up her childhood dream of winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, because her parents forced her not to take more advanced math and science classes at school. Amiya’s determination to broaden the scope of STEM-related opportunities for girls around the world served as an inspiration for me to also lead a change. And for that, I am eternally grateful to Amiya and her work to raise awareness of how the underrepresentation of minority groups in STEM doesn’t simply stop at creating a disproportionate workforce, but can also lead to biased, and therefore unproductive, innovation.
One of my earliest memories contains a cloud of confusion around which toys I ‘could’ and ‘could not’ play with. I still remember the moment at my 7th birthday party, unwrapping a present from my dad, and how excited I was, when I first saw an educational robot coding set inside the box. I loved the set, but I soon realized my preference was not important. Instantly, with a disapproving look, my aunt was criticizing my father, busy questioning why he did not opt for something more ‘girly’, like a doll, or perhaps a kitchen set that will help me later become a ‘good’ wife. Even at my school, I distinctly remember when Mrs. Lee, who substituted for our homeroom teacher, sauntered into our classroom, murmuring a complaint about “these technologies nowadays” and asking for a smart ‘boy’ to help her turn on the computer. As I watched my classmate, Andrew, struggling to fulfill her request, I soon raised my hand, saying “I know how to turn it on. I can help Andrew.” Unsurprisingly, I was soon silenced by Mrs. Lee, who preached to all of our female classmates that guys are always better at technology, based on her seventy-two years of ‘diverse’ life experience.
My two stories clearly illustrate the disparity between the ideas that are being engraved into the minds of young children of different genders in our society. Dolls, kitchen sets… Girls are guided to nurturing, housewife-like roles, and this inevitably affects their future hobbies and careers. Toy manufacturers as well as consumers who insist on stigmatizing gender norms are pushing their anachronistic marketing agenda and thoughtlessly accepting the misconceptions, while children at an impressionable age are left as the only victims in this perpetuating cycle, widening the existing gender gap. Especially, my experience of being preached by Mrs. Lee portrays that our society still has a deep-rooted expectation for boys to be more capable of completing complex tasks than girls are. Whether it be the type of toys I like or the skills that I newly acquire with my own effort, any of my qualities that deviate from gender stereotypes are deemed shameful. In this light, the self-doubt in young girls that Amiya mentioned is predestined from a young age by their upbringing.
Furthermore, in contrast to common belief, my experiences have made it clear that gender discriminations are not only acted upon by males but also by females too, depicting that the identity of those who are oppressing and are oppressed is not one-sided. Certainly, gender inequality is a systemic issue for every group of people in our society, regardless of ethnicity, financial background, and most importantly, gender; misogyny is easily internalized and passed down through generations, continually feeding into itself. It is necessary to break this unhealthy cycle in order to shrink the gap that exists between two genders. For that matter, I am very much appreciative of the work Amiya has put in to build her business model in a way that addresses the underlying issues that widened the gender gap; STEMher exposed young girls to inspiring female role models and planted confidence in them to follow the STEM path, striving to leave a lasting positive impact on our society.
Being exposed to gender stereotypes from a young age, like Amiya, I also explored my passions in finding practical ways to combat the gender gap in STEM myself. As previously mentioned above, I saw many of my female friends drifting away from challenging STEM-related courses due to the overdominance of male students already registered in those courses. As the officer of my school’s Girl Up club, a girls’ rights organization founded by the UN, I organized weekly educational sessions with the elementary students in my school to protect their passionate dreams from gender prejudices. During each session, young girls and boys alike were presented with STEM learning opportunities such as programming with the Scratch software, building bridges with toothpicks, making mini rockets with chemical reactions, and using doctor kits to learn about different medical careers. In fact, our doctor kit activity was inspired by Sishi, an eight-year-old Asian girl, who I became friends with during the first few sessions. Sishi told me about how her dreams to become a doctor were stunted by the will of her parents to follow a more feminine career path. She explained how the jobs that her parents wanted her to pursue, namely teaching occupations, were unappealing to her. I could sympathize with Sishi, as her stories brought back memories of the conflicts both Clara and I have experienced in the past. To help her realize her dream, I proposed to our club members to include a medical-related activity in one of our sessions. Even after the end of the spring semester sessions, I still keep in contact with Sishi as a good friend who empathizes with her struggles and supports her path to becoming a doctor. I had made an impact, albeit small, on an individual’s life, and my interactions with Sishi taught me that I should further strive to become a qualified female leader who can wield influence on a larger community to guide more people to a more gender-equitable society.
After I graduate high school, I am eager to pursue a career in computer science and artificial intelligence, hoping to become a role model for generations of girls under my age and to undo the damage of the “irresponsible innovations” that have arisen from the gender gap in STEM. With the small but powerful steps that I will take from now on, I am committed to building a bridge between the two genders — an unfortunate gap that persists today.
When my friend convinced me to take an intro to CS course at my school, I was highly skeptical of what I would face. I soon discovered that coding pushed my creative thinking, furthering my problem-solving abilities in innovative ways rather than simply black-and-white solutions. Yet while I enjoyed developing my coding projects, I was often pushed out of the conversation as a result of being the only girl in my groups. My male classmates had been coding with their dads since they were in elementary school, and they shared a common language– inside jokes about coding softwares for younger kids– that I could not access. Just as Amiya noted, girls often interact in class less nd have less exposure to STEM resources in general. Thus I was inspired to start Poly Girls Who Code, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in STEM by helping young women develop and apply computer science skills, particularly through projects that aid global and local communities.
I still remember the most common thing I heard at club sign-up day: “But I’m not good at coding” and “I can’t code,” all of which identify the red flag that women feel discouraged in participating, if attempting at all, in learning the skillsets necessary to thrive in STEM. As Amiya identified, this problem has been rooted in generation’s worth of inequality. I believe that we currently lack the networks and communities required to support young women and further foster engagement in STEM. Moreover, Amiya’s approach is one that I strongly resonate with. When Amiya commented that she wanted members to “make something for themselves,” I was reminded of the project-oriented successes that I’ve seen in my own organization. Whether it be creating a website for a local orchestra or developing an app for a local high school, it’s incredibly empowering to see your ideas come to fruition. Yet in addition to coding workshops, I saw that panels and resume building events were crucial to helping young women get on track with professional development in the STEM sector.
But like Amiya, sustaining the nonprofit has not been easy. While our organization has taught hundreds of students, K-12, the fundamentals of several computer science languages, managing the funds and operations of the organization has proved difficult. But by reaching out to the nonprofits that we partnered with as well as corporations interested in investing in future brilliant engineers and mathemeticians, I realized that we were creating opportunities that were multi-generational.
But even if we’ve achieved balanced turnout in highschool enrollment of STEM courses, whether by standardization of such courses or genuinely a positive shift, that is only one section of a major cultural issue. As reported by the Pew Research center, the “median earnings of women in STEM occupations ($66,200) are about 74% of men’s median earnings in STEM ($90,000).” It’s one thing to place female students in a classroom to learn a coding language or statistical analysis; it’s another to help not only them but other people see the value in having them in that classroom environment. Developing confidence and finding where you can flourish with STEM skills are key to amplifying our voices. With a network to lean on and a dream to fight for, women are unstoppable. As incredible individuals like Amiya blaze a scorching trail, we will discover our potential, nurture our strengths, and transform our communities, all while inspiring each other along the way.
Since childhood, I was always told that as a girl, I had to act “feminine” and that certain things were reserved solely for our male counterparts. I was told that the things I did : the way I sat, walked, and even my personality weren’t graceful enough for women, and that I would be looked down upon if I didn’t fix my habits; told that I would be the only female amongst a crowd of males if I wanted to engage in certain sports or activities.
The words I heard in my childhood always trailed me, and because of the discouragement, I only did what was considered “feminine”. But aside from these stereotypes, what really is defined as “feminine”? I was never really able to define the term, or at least not until I discovered an organization called Girls Who Code, a program that brought computing over to girls in an effort to bridge the gender gap in STEM. This program inspired me and altered my perspective of feminism just as Amiya is doing for girls. The program taught me that instead of shying away, we should fight for ourselves and encourage other females as well. I was able to see feminists who were really into STEM fighting to pave a path for all women. Those women inspired me and because of them, I took the mission about equality into my own hands and developed a website promoting awareness in an effort to bring equality into STEM.
However, that wasn’t all that the program had inspired me to do. Since the program’s end, I have also been out to live a life freely for myself; regardless of whatever anyone else might think, regardless of whether it’s considered “feminine” or not.
I understand that the struggles of being a woman will continue to live on, but together, we can make a change just as women like Amiya have inspired me to do.