On average, a family is missing $1 million when a woman retires because of gender-based wage inequity. At the same time, statistics indicate women are pursuing advanced degrees in greater numbers than ever.
So, with all that valuable training and knowledge, why haven’t women closed the pay gap?
Karen Gordon, founder of the Chicago-based consultancy 50 Action 50 points to a deeply entrenched cultural bias that discourages females from pursuing lucrative, high-growth careers in business, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“As parents, we indirectly raise girls to be dependent,” said Gordon. “We ‘gender’ them. We teach them to expect less.”
On November 28, Gordon led roughly 15 District 36 parents, teachers and staff in a 2-hour D36-sponsored workshop at Hubbard Woods School. Entitled “Build and Support the Female Talent Pipeline: Birth to College,” Gordon and her team led the group through a series of exercises designed to help communities, parents, and educators promote STEM and entrepreneurship to school-aged girls.
Gordon has spent her career moving billion-dollar businesses to digital platforms. Four years ago, she founded WE Design Think to help companies and non-profits innovate and adapt in a rapidly shifting global economy. Believing those same design principles could be applied to solve social issues; Gordon founded 50 ACTION 50, the social enterprise division of WE Design Think.
In the past year, Gordon has worked closely with D36 administrators to spearhead the Skokie-Washburne one-to-one computing initiative, as well as middle school’s all girls robotics team.
“We really want to teach our students how to be thinkers,” said Maureen Miller, District 36’s Director of Technology, who outlined the district’s ongoing efforts to promote coding, robotics and maker space technology in all five of Winnetka’s public schools. “We want to work on the ‘Four C’s’ – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.”
According to Gordon, an estimated 60 percent of all undergraduate degrees in the United States are awarded to women, but only 25% of those diplomas are earned in STEM subjects. Only 25-40 percent of all business degrees are awarded to women.
“We’re not utilizing their talents, “ said Gordon.
Without the hard skills needed pursue top-earning STEM jobs, says Gordon, women are disproportionately saddled with student debt and inadequately prepared for retirement.
“When genders are balanced, you can start talking about economic equity, rather than pay equity,” said Gordon. All of a sudden, the conversation changes.”
After settling participants into seats in the school’s library, Gordon and two facilitators led a series of creative brainstorming exercises. Using Play Doh and pipe cleaners, participants were asked to build a 3D model illustrating their reason for attending the workshop.
“My daughters have an organic interest in all things related to STEM,” said Wnnetka resident, Michele Giczweski, who modeled her ball of Play Doh into a question mark. “I want to know how I can nurture their natural enthusiasm.”
Participants also spent time in small groups exploring perceived barriers to female STEM careers. Answers included teacher bias, and the lack of role models in older generations, as well as the persistent, misguided notion that boys are more “capable” and girls are more “feeling.”
“Each of these small groups will approach the discussion in an entirely different way,” said Gordon. “We have to listen to everyone to affect change.”
Most importantly, said Gordon, it’s up to individuals – not corporations – to promote STEM among girls. Before leaving the workshop, participants were tasked with outlining actionable, short term and long term solutions to tackling the STEM gender gap, not just at home, but in their schools and communities.
‘”Many of the men at my workshops tell me they’re going to go home and talk to their daughter,’ said Gordon. “The point is, the discussion should continue when you leave tonight,” said Gordon. “This is just the beginning of the conversation.”