For more than a century, the go-to representation of science and innovation – the lab coat – has remained remarkably unchanged.
But as science clips away at the fastest pace in modern history, women still make up less than a quarter of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs.
Studies have shown us that there are a lot of reasons for that. According to research from the Girl Scouts of America, girls who are interested in STEM are drawn to the creative aspects of the fields and to the possibility of having a positive impact on the world. But not all girls associate careers in STEM with those ideas.
"I think the issue is really exposure," says Rosie Carrion, 24, a former Abbott high school STEM intern who now works as an engineer for the company. "People think of guys with dirty, oily hands or someone staring at a computer screen all day. But what I learned through my internships is that engineers have a hand in creating everything there is. The diversity of what engineers do is enormous – but most girls have no idea, because they're never exposed."
An Abbott study of girls and boys the same age also shows they're far less likely to both consider math and science "cool" and to think they are good at the subjects. It also revealed they're less likely to be encouraged to pursue STEM and less likely to have role models in the fields who look like them.
So how can we help these young people see that science and engineering are all about using creativity every day to solve some of the world's biggest problems?
One idea: Start by reinventing that lab coat.
Enter San Francisco design school sewnow! and our 15- to 18-year-old interns – 70 percent of whom are young women. We gave them this challenge: Create the lab coat of the future.
"The lab coat reinvention challenge definitely showed me that we don't have to accept things as they are," said Jomi Babatunde-Omoya, a high school engineering intern from Roseville, Minn. "There's always room to make them better, and engineering is part of every step of that process."
These interns created lab coats as diverse as the students themselves, adding colors and new features – like a sleeve that could be written on, with the prose uploaded to the cloud with a snap of an adjoining QR code.
And if they think reinventing the lab coat was a rewarding experience – we hope that is just a catalyst to inspire them to challenge even bigger things in the world.
We know we need the unique insights of young people – especially women who are underrepresented in STEM – to create the innovations of the future. We need them to envision the things we don't even know we need yet. And then make them.
Let's demystify these fields for girls and help them see how they can use their inherent, unique creativity and intelligence in STEM fields to create the next life-changing technologies.
To learn more about what you can do, visit www.stem.abbott
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