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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Preparing our young women to lead the fourth industrial revolution
Bridging the gender gap in STEM & STEAM
By Sam Humphrey | March | April 2021
“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” — Novelist William Gibson
As not only a school principal, but also a dad of daughters, the concept of career readiness for our next generation hits home. Already firmly at the crossroads of a rapidly-evolving landscape in simply defining college and career readiness entering the fourth industrial revolution, the skills we’re identifying as preparedness are becoming outdated as quickly as they’re developed. While each of the previous three industrial revolutions have produced advancement and evolutions throughout society, they have also resulted in greater discrepancies heavily impacting marginalized groups, especially women.
Let’s take a look at the numbers now and also into the crystal ball of the not-too-distant future workforce:
  • 43 percent of recent college graduates in the United States are underemployed in their first job out of college. And of those graduates, two-thirds remain underemployed after five years and 50 percent remain after 10 years (Burning Glass & Strada Institute, 2018).
  • Current student loan debt in the United States is more than $1.5 trillion, with an average of $37,000 per borrower.
  • The World Economic Forum “Future of Jobs” report predicts that 75 million jobs worldwide will be displaced by automation by 2022.
  • In the same period, 133 million new jobs will be added to the global economy, but due to the “skills gap,” workers most at risk will not have necessary qualifications to fill new positions (M. Doepker, 2019).
  • Globally, the United Nations Labour Organization predicts that up to 80 percent of garment, textile and apparel manufacturing jobs (those with significant overrepresentation of female workers) will be lost to automation.
Kate Anderson says in “A Woman’s Place Is In The (Fourth Industrial) Revolution”: “In the United States, women comprise just 35% of undergraduates earning degrees in STEM. And even within that minority, census data shows only one in seven women who have a STEM degree are actually employed in that field.” We clearly have an opportunity (read: responsibility) to ensure a true college and career readiness effort starts at the elementary-school level and targets STEAM-related avenues, specifically for our young women and girls.
We didn’t just parachute into these current circumstances, either. The discrepancies in our education system date back to its original inception in the mid-19th century. The product of one Horace Mann after a trip to Prussia inspired the development of the Common School. “Common because it was for everyone, the kids of the farmer, the kids of the potter, and the kids of the local shopkeeper” (Godin, 2014). A school system for all wasn’t initially as easy of a sell as you might think, as kids in the mid-1850s made up a prominent section of the labor force. It wasn’t until a compromise was made with industrialists that the idea began to gain traction across our country — a compromise that would set the very foundation for which our school system is currently set upon, informing everything from the roles of educators to the bell schedule to even the arrangement of desks.
“Part of the rationale used to sell this major transformation to industrialists was the idea that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instruction isn’t a coincidence — it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.” (Godin, 2014)
And it worked.
For generations, the assembly-line, factory-style school system produced adults to do the very same in the workplace. Just as the workplace has changed since the second industrial revolution, so have the skills needed to be successful. Obedience, compliance and memorization have been replaced with skills such as critical thinking, creativity and cultural intelligence as those employers seek the most (Marr, 2019).
The inertia of the 150-year-old flywheel of education has finally been put to a screeching halt, and it only took a once in a multi-lifetime global pandemic. Students have traded their desks for tiny windows on a Zoom session, 30-pound outdated textbooks for Chromebooks and a chance to connect with each other in creative ways that our traditional brick and mortar structure may not have allowed. Let’s take this pause to see how we can do more than just survive these times in education and perhaps even thrive in reimagining a system that can truly benefit all students.
While we live in a time of uncertainty, there is also opportunity — opportunity to make this revolution benefit half our population in ways that the other three did not. But we needed to start yesterday. And what better place to begin this work of building the skills of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship with our young girls that will result in them becoming the women who lead us in the fourth industrial revolution than in our schools?
The inertia of the 150-year-old flywheel of education has finally been put to a screeching halt — and it only took a once in a multi-lifetime global pandemic.
We, as educators, are not the trailblazers on this either; corporate giants such as Intel and SalesForce have already begun the programs and training for female employees that our school system missed during their 16-plus years with us.
There are everyday chances at our schools, big and small, from what we positively reinforce for our girls in the classroom at the youngest ages — recognizing questioning and curiosity over compliance and obedience, to taking intentional time to promote incredible female role models in this arena — from Marie Curie to the founder of GoldieBlox, Debbie Sterling, and our most recent recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry: Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna.
Outdated curriculum is not going to do this for us. There’s a number of partners out there to help, though — programs from the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls (Engaging Girls in STEAM) as well as the National Association of Secondary School Principals (Engaging Girls in STEAM) are a great start. But beyond resources and programs, it’s a mindset — a paradigm shift long overdue for many. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum proposes: “There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater peril.” The promise or peril depends on where we put our energy as educators next. My daughters and the daughters of so many others are counting on it.

Anderson, K. (2018). A Woman’s Place Is In the (Fourth Industrial) Revolution. Retrieved from: https://populationeducation.org/a-womans-place-is-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/
Godin, S. (2012) Stop Stealing Dreams, What is School for?. Do You Zoom, Inc. Retrieved from: https://seths.blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/stop-stealing-dreams6print.pdf
Marr, B. (2019) The Ten Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking For. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2019/10/28/the-10-most-important-job-skills-every-company-will-be-looking-for-in-2020/?sh=53fcf6c367b6
Sam Humphrey is the principal at Taylor Elementary School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.
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