Pitch of the NiñaSTEM Pueden Project

At this year’s Paris Peace Forum, NiñaSTEM Pueden was exhibited as a selected “Inclusive Economy” initiative. On 12 November 2019, I presented the pitch of this simple yet effective initiative to combat negative gender-based stereotypes that hold women back from pursuing STEM in Mexico. We brought this project to the Paris Peace Forum to forge important connections both for our project in Mexico and with other countries who may wish to implement a similar initiative. The OECD Secretary-General attended this pitch.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Gabriela Ramos; I am the OECD Chief of Staff and the Sherpa to the G7 and G20, and I also oversee the work of the OECD on gender. I am delighted to present to you today a project that is very close to my heart, because it is helping transform the lives and opportunities of girls in my country, Mexico.

But let me begin, with a little bit of context.

At the OECD, we have been working hard since the 80s, but with renewed efforts since 2011, to promote gender equality.

As our mandate calls for “Better Policies for Better lives”, we have focused on policies and on interventions that matter. We have encouraged countries to legislate to ensure gender equality, and to review legal framework; we have promoted affirmative action for management and leadership positions; and we have adopted family-friendly policies to share unpaid care work more equally.

And we have seen progress, with the G20 adopting a gender target, with many countries repealing damaging laws, and with many countries, including in the OECD, adopting or improving dual parental leave policies.

However, this progress is too slow, and as UNWomen has said, it will take us 200 years to reach parity if we continue with this pace.

This is a human right story, it is about representation and access, but it is also an economic one, and if we think about the gender target in the G20 we understand why.

Increasing labour force participation by 25% will bring 100 million women into the labour force and increase substantially GDP in a context of slow global growth. According to the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) the current level of discrimination reduces global income by 7.5%, a loss of USD 6 trillion.

So, if we know the tools, and we know the policies. If we are convinced this is the right thing to do, why is it so difficult? Well, it has to do with our cultural norms and understanding, sometimes with religious believes or moral frameworks, but sometimes by plain stereotyping that put women in certain role and men in another one.

It starts in the family, where we promote the idea that girls should not dare, that they are there to be protected, or by the media, including social networks, that objectivize women. There is even acceptance by some women that violence is justified!

What is the outcome of this stereotpying? Parents not thinking their girls can reach the sky, girls thinking that they are not good enough and with lower confidence (10% lower according to PISA).

All this translates into under-representation in STEM. Women make up more than half of university graduates, but not even a third of STEM graduates, and only a fifth of computer science graduates.

So at the OECD, inspired by Chancellor Merkel, we decided to launch a program to break this stereotyping, that is really not expensive, but that can have great dividends.

The story of the project is straightforward. In 2016, when Chancellor Merkel chaired the G7, she promoted the idea that we needed more role models.

She invited a group of prominent women from different walks of life. The idea was that visibility could send a strong message. For me it was even clearer at a personal level, I remember when the OECD’s gender expert told me her daughter asked her whether a man could be a chancellor!

So we borrowed this idea for Mexico, where only 9% of Mexican women enrol in STEM majors.  And launched something very simple.

We looked for successful women in Mexico in the areas of STEM. And we found amazing people.

We found Julieta Fierro, an astronomer and leading research scientist; Dorothy Ruiz-Martinez, a NASA engineer; Deborah Berebichez, the first Mexican women to earn a PhD in physics from Stanford.

We gathered 50 STEM “mentors” and the Public TV in Mexico produced clips to encourage girls to aspire to STEM. The previous Minister of Education endorsed it, and the new administration too. It is the Ministry of education that opens the doors to the schools, and gathers the girls.

The mentors speak with girls that are about to choose their studies, and make them consider this option. The mentors do not ask them if they want to be engineers, they ask them if they want to build robots. Everybody wants to build robots! Everybody wants to go to the space! Everybody wants to clean the ocean with new technology, or save lives.

The results are incredible. NiñaSTEM has reached more than 2,500 female and 1,000 male students between 7th-9th grade.

And now we are replicating this simple format in other countries, and we want you to vote for this program, to be able to promote it beyond. Certainly, this will not resolve all the problems of stereotyping. But it brings confidence to the girls, and to the parents and teachers, it shows how the biases and cultural barriers that impede progress.

Of course all this has to come with additional policy reforms: eliminating gender stereotyping from text books, and take action particularly in social networks to avoid girls to be objectivized, and appreciated only for their looks for example.

But most girls will only become what they can see is possible, and this is the mission of NinaSTEM Pueden!

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