These organizations are leading the way toward a more inclusive, diverse and gender-equitable STEM workforce.
Women make up approximately 46.8% of the U.S. labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But women are underrepresented -- sometimes drastically -- in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, especially in the IT sector. Among all jobs categorized as architecture and engineering occupations, women make up only 16.1% of the workforce. For computer hardware engineers, that number drops to 15.7%. And for the broad category of computer and mathematical occupations, women make up 26.7% of workers as a whole.
From regional outfits to multinational organizations, these are some of the biggest and most prominent groups working to change those numbers by promoting women in STEM.
1. American Association of University Women
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is one of the oldest women-oriented education and professional organizations in the U.S. Its first incarnation -- the Association of Collegiate Alumnae -- was founded in 1882 to help women access higher education, improve educational standards, and increase women's opportunities in higher education and careers. It began in Boston and branched out to Washington, D.C., in 1884. Today, the AAUW serves approximately 170,000 members across all 50 states.
The association supported Marie Curie in her radium experiments, along with female scientists and scholars seeking refuge in the U.S. during World War II. In the 1960s, the group took on a more political stance by advocating for and supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. All these actions were part of the association's efforts not only to support college-going and college-educated women, but also to provide resources for women in the workforce -- particularly regarding equal pay, career advancement, and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and academia.
2. Association for Women in Science
The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) was founded in 1971 and has chapters across 18 states and Washington, D.C. The organization advocates for equal pay and nondiscrimination in STEM environments, recognition of female scientists' achievements, and empowering women to pursue and obtain leadership roles and achieve better work-life balance.
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AWIS has five primary areas of focus:
- Gender bias.
- Support for caregivers.
- Title IX.
While recognizing that these issues affect workplaces in every sector, AWIS is dedicated to addressing them in STEM fields specifically. AWIS accomplishes this by providing professional networking opportunities and offering several scholarships and grants to female students and women working in STEM.
3. Black Girls Code
Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code (BGC), got the idea when her daughter attended a summer camp for children interested in programming. Not only was Bryant's daughter one of only a few girls in attendance, she was also the only Black girl. Bryant organized a six-week coding camp in 2011, and following an investment from ThoughtWorks in 2012, Black Girls Code was born. BGC currently has 15 chapters in 12 states as well as Washington, D.C., and Johannesburg.
Despite the name and the group's origins, BGC welcomes girls ages 6 to 17 of all backgrounds, particularly those from Black and Latino communities and from low-income households.
BGC supports four primary areas of programming:
- Web design.
- Game design.
- Mobile and app design.
Classes are taught by working IT professionals who volunteer their time to help train the next generation of Black women in computer science. The courses are set up as after-school events, daylong workshops and an extended session in the summer.
Following graduation from the program, alumni are invited to attend career workshops and panels, leadership summits, and tech expos. They are also given access to technical courses, scholarships, internships and job opportunities.
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4. Girls Who Code
Lawyer and former congressional candidate Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code (GWC) in 2012 as a nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in STEM. To do this, the organization hosts educational programs for middle and high school girls interested in traditionally male-dominated tech fields such as programming, web design and robotics. GWC also provides funding for professional development and gender inclusion training in tech companies.
The organization focuses most on its K-12 program that provides after-school clubs to girls ages 13 to 18 -- all led by STEM professionals. The programs focus on what the organization calls the core four concepts of computer science programming:
The clubs operate in all 50 U.S. states and in Canada, India and the United Kingdom.
According to the nonprofit's 2021 annual report, there are approximately 115,000 post-college and college-aged GWC alumni. The group has reached approximately half a million girls, women and nonbinary students -- more than half of whom come from communities historically underrepresented in tech, such as Black, Latino and low-income households.
5. Million Women Mentors
Million Women Mentors (MWM) -- a STEMconnector initiative -- is focused on encouraging girls and women to pursue and remain in STEM jobs by sparking interest and supporting educational and professional development. The organization does this primarily through its States Initiative program.
The program is currently active in more than 40 states and gathers resources on a state-by-state basis for girls and women interested in STEM. MWM works with businesses and local leaders to create more opportunities through a national network of thought leaders and social media.
MWM also works with the U.S. State Department, international nonprofit organizations and postsecondary schools to close the gender gap in STEM around the world and to improve women's economic standing and opportunities. Outside the United States, this program has resources available for women in India, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
6. National Girls Collaborative Project
Since its creation in 2002, the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) has expanded to 41 states and established networks in Canada and Australia. Through its many partnerships and collaborations, it has reached approximately 20 million young girls and women interested in, entering or leading STEM fields.
NGCP -- part of the Global Girls Collaborative -- promotes gender equality in the science and technology sectors. It provides educational and professional resources for educators of all levels, including private tutors, higher education faculty, nonprofits and tech leaders. NGCP fosters a community of female role models to spark interest in STEM subjects for girls in grades K-12 and to encourage young women to enter STEM-related college programs and related careers.
NGCP hosts and participates in many local and national initiatives, including the following:
- FabFems. This program connects young women entering STEM professions or transitioning into new STEM careers with women already in their line of work who can provide guidance and mentorship.
- Connected Girls. This initiative is a database of STEAM -- science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics -- events and opportunities for historically excluded groups, including women, minorities and low-income individuals.
- Youth Advisory Board. This is composed of high school students of diverse backgrounds and STEM interests. It offers critical feedback and recommendations to the NGCP to inform its future goals and plans. In exchange, the NGCP provides unique opportunities to support board members' education and career goals in STEM.
- NGCP Anniversary Fellowship. This was established in 2022 to provide career guidance and development for STEM professionals just entering the field, with an aim toward raising awareness of the importance of gender equity and diversity.
7. The Society of Women Engineers
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is dedicated to increasing women's participation throughout multiple engineering fields. By providing educational and career training opportunities, SWE's mission is to encourage women to enter the profession and to recognize and support women already working as engineers.
The SWE awards donor-funded scholarships to women in undergraduate and graduate STEM programs and promotes STEM education initiatives among K-12 girls. The SWE is also committed to promoting intersectionality and inclusivity by advocating for more diverse hiring practices in STEM industries.
In the 1940s -- when many male-dominated positions were left open due to World War II -- women who took on new or more advanced roles as engineers began to build on prior organizing efforts and formed local networks throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Representatives of the four original districts of the SWE -- Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. -- convened in New Jersey in May 1950 to elect the SWE's first president, Beatrice Hicks. The following year, the group's first meeting as a formal organization convened in New York City.
As more women entered the workforce in general and STEM fields over the following decades, the SWE's membership increased dramatically. Today, the SWE boasts more than 40,000 members across 80 countries.
8. Women in Engineering ProActive Network
The Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN) was founded in 1990 to promote and improve diversity, gender and racial equity, and inclusion in engineering. It does this by working with higher education institutions, businesses and professional engineer societies to develop outreach and training programs for students and professionals.
WEPAN operates several initiatives to this end, including the following:
- Women in STEM Knowledge Center. This is a repository of research papers written by WEPAN members and supporters, scholarly resources for students interested in learning more about STEM careers and for women already employed in tech sectors, interviews with female STEM leaders, and webinar recordings.
- ARC Network. This is an initiative designed to create a more equitable STEM environment in academia.
WEPAN also organizes several events throughout the year. In 2022, the organization hosted the Virtual Women of Color Summit. It consisted of lectures and workshops led by women of color in STEM fields and aimed to help women network and share research.
The WEPAN Accelerator program provides guidance for women in STEM who are interested in patenting and commercializing their research through the creation of small businesses. And the WEPAN Awards recognizes noteworthy individuals and organizations that supported or echoed WEPAN's mission of celebrating and increasing diversity and gender equality in STEM.