Empowering Women and Girls Through STEM

3 minutes read time
TechWomen participate in a photo opportunity during the closing luncheon at the State Department in Washington, D.C.
TechWomen participate in a photo opportunity during the closing luncheon at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (State Department photo)

Empowering Women and Girls Through STEM

Globally, the percentage of women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is small. Through TechWomen, a mentorship and cultural exchange program, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) seeks to provide international women leaders with the resources needed to excel in these industries.

This fall, approximately 100 inspiring women from 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia, traveled to the United States to participate in a five-week mentorship program with some of the most talented women at notable science and technology companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

The American mentors volunteered to share their expertise to help empower these international women as the teams interacted with those who have a completely different perspective and culture. ECA’s implementing partner, the Institute of International Education (IIE), guided the participants throughout the program as they worked with their mentors on special projects, attended leadership training to increase their understanding of American business development, and expanded their network through workshops and professional events.   

TechWomen work on an action plan to address a socioeconomic challenge in their home country. (Photo courtesy of Institute of International Education)

Encouraging the next generation of women and girls in STEM and being engaged in one’s community is a major component of the mentorship program. The emerging leaders were charged with developing projects that address socioeconomic issues in their home countries. They worked tirelessly with an American advisor, also known as an impact coach, to develop ideas, plans, and to pitch their projects with the goal of receiving seed funding to aid in implementation.

TechWomen Team Nigeria was one of this year’s winning groups. They developed the Mobile Aide Against Maternal and Infant Mortality (MAAMI) project to address the high maternal mortality rate within their country. According to the World Factbook, Nigeria has been ranked as having the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

TechWomen Team Nigeria being announced as winners of the pitch competition at Twitter in San Francisco, CA. (Photo courtesy of Institute of International Education)

In a Facebook live discussion with Susan Crystal, ECA Deputy Assistant Secretary, the Nigerian team discussed their passion for decreasing the number of avoidable maternal deaths by providing education and adequate care for expectant mothers. Through MAAMI, the team plans to work with partner organizations to deliver health education messages, via an automated audio messaging system, in local languages, to address existing challenges such as language barriers and internet access in underserved communities. 

Over the past seven years, more than 500 women from over 22 countries have participated in TechWomen and are committed to encouraging the next generation of STEM leaders in their home countries. During the program’s closing luncheon at the State Department, ECA Assistant Secretary Marie Royce underscored the importance of this mentoring program, crediting her own mentors as contributing to her success as a former businesswoman in a male-dominated industry.

In the Spring of 2019, a group of American mentors and TechWomen alumnae will travel to select countries to lead seminars and networking activities for young women entrepreneurs and conduct workshops for undergraduates and teenage girls in STEM. 

The emerging leaders and mentors have built life-lasting connections, ensuring the sustainability of mutually beneficial relationships established through TechWomen.

About the Author: Rasheeda Clements serves in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com