Posted by Lilli Schussler Aug 8, 2014 Ambition Gap, Amy Poehler, curriculum, discover, empower, empower girls, Girls, impact, inspiration, lawyer, media, National Center for Education Statistics, NCES, Role Models, school, sexism in tech, Skills, STEM, teachers, white house, Women's Issues
This is the third installment in a six-post series about SWSG’s model and impact. In light of 10 years of strong work, this series shows the impact of SWSG’s model and connects it to current events and research about girls and women today.
President Obama has recently sent out a push to incentivize women into entering the STEM fields and is looking into strategies to inspire young women, as well.
Previous SWSG bloggers have discussed the importance of representation in the media as a way to empower and inspire girls. I stand by this idea, and so does the White House: “Research shows that outstanding women mentors and role models can can break down stereotypes and help girls believe — by seeing — that that they too can be successful in STEM education and careers.”
This is a well-meaning initiative, but it falls flat when women and girls continue to be marginalized once they enter the field.
How do we create a safe space for our girls to learn the proper skillset needed to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, while gearing up to deal with the barriers that they’ll face in the process?
Strong Women, Strong Girls has created a skills-based curriculum, using the biographies of past strong women and girls to prepare them for what may be ahead.
Each week, girls are introduced to a strong woman or girl that exemplifies a certain leadership skill. The girls then engage in an activity that allows them to practice this skill and then reflect on the experience.
This past program year, SWSG mentors and girls read Amy Poehler’s biography to discuss what she has done to demonstrate the skills of determination and perseverance. One mentor recalls, “The bio prompted us to discuss what the girls want to be when they grow up. Without hesitation, one of the girls said a lawyer. She said she thought it was important to stand up for people and make sure everyone was treated fairly. We had a conversation about standing up for people the week before and it was amazing to see how that stuck with her.”
While these skills can definitely be cultivated within the school setting — and they should be — it is clear that there is rarely discussion of women’s contributions to history or any focus on women’s stories and experiences as they relate to class material.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76% of teachers in public school settings are female. If a female teacher is consistently teaching about the long list of skills that the men of history had, how can our girls see these qualities within themselves to utilize them later in life? Even more concerning is the fact that of all public school teachers, 83% are White, causing a host of issues for students of color in the classroom due to lack of representation.
We want our girls to know that when they feel powerless, there has been a woman who persevered through it. We want our girls to know that when they feel silenced, there is a woman who communicated effectively and got her voice heard to enact change.
By linking a woman to a skill, we create a cohort of girls that see who they can be and how to actively learn the skills necessary to get there.
Emily Kindschy is the SWSG Research and Development intern. She is a 2014 graduate of Lesley University and MSW candidate. She hopes to use her background and future education to improve the lives of women and girls across the world through direct service work and policy.