Last night, President Obama talked about the state of our union, and if there was a single theme he returned to again and again, it was this: Our leaders in Washington are setting the course for our economy’s future, and the middle class must be the engine that drives that future.
Small business and the spirit of entrepreneurialism helped build America into the world power it is today, and they will continue to be important drivers of our economy as we move further into the 21st century. But as the President also affirmed, our shared economic future also depends upon our pipeline of workers pursuing careers in STEM fields–science, technology, engineering, and math.
The President gave us a glimpse of what he believes our economic future will look like when he said, “Twenty-first century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development.” He also reminded us of the vital role women have played in our workforce in the past, and that it was time to train our workforce to “fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.”
As the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, I like to believe I lead a movement that has been ahead of the curve for over a century, not just in terms of recognizing the value and leadership potential of girls, but by making sure we were working to build those girls into women with business savvy, and competence in the skills and emerging technologies that would define the coming era.
Programs like our iconic Girl Scout Cookie Program, which teaches girls the important business skills of goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics, has recently added an exciting new digital component, called Digital Cookie. Digital Cookie meets girls where they are–online–and teaches them exciting new 21st-century skills such as website maintenance, online money management, e-commerce, online marketing, and even cyber security.
It couldn’t be a more important time to have a national dialogue centered on girls and STEM and how to encourage them to explore careers in STEM fields. Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs, and they constitute 80% of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. Yet many young women interested in a STEM degree too often face discouraging classroom experiences. While women comprise 48% of the U.S. workforce, just 24% are in STEM fields, a statistic that has held constant for nearly a decade.
The degree of urgency is high. The U.S. lags behind in bachelor degrees in STEM fields and frequently has to import STEM talent. And obtaining a career in a STEM field is daunting even for girls with the best of resources; for those without them, the odds are incredibly slim. Girl Scouts is committed to being part of the solution to this national issue. Digital Cookie is just the latest example of our commitment to exposing girls to STEM subjects. We have been contributing to the pipeline of girls equipped with STEM skills and hands-on experience since 1913, when we created the Electrician and Flyer badges.
Last night President Obama made it clear: It’s time to start thinking about our collective economic future, and America’s place as a global economic leader. If the U.S. is to maintain its competitive advantage in the global economy, we need to ensure that our girls can reach for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math and that we encourage them to stay the course in these exciting, challenging, and rewarding fields.
For over 100 years, Girl Scouts has been building girls who will go on to shape the future. Now, at the start of our second century of service to girls, it’s more important than ever that our nation embrace the Girl Scout mission and empower girls to find their passion and follow it wherever it leads them, whether it’s in business, the arts, or the booming STEM sector. Girls deserve nothing less.
—Anna Maria Chávez is the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.