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JJ forms partnerships to bolster girls’ interest in STEM fields

It’s one thing for corporations to encourage and support women in traditionally male-dominated careers; it’s another for them to provide women with the education and tools needed to succeed in such fields.Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick announced Monday partnerships with nonprofit organizations FHI 360 in Durham, North Carolina, and Junior Achievement Worldwide in Boston to help support and create supplementary programs for the organization’s WiSTEM2D, or Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design, initiative.

The health science company created WiSTEM2D last year to support women of all ages in STEM-related fields by inspiring and educating girls between the ages of 5 and 18 via academic programs utilizing creative problem-solving and play.

FHI 360 and Junior Achievement Worldwide will continue to help Johnson & Johnson develop in-school and after-school curriculums that will pair students with mentors in science, health and technical fields in ongoing research and independent projects in the United States, Africa and Europe.

The nonprofit organizations also will help Johnson & Johnson continue to encourage college-age women to pursue degrees in STEM-related fields by augmenting existing undergraduate programs at nearly 10 higher academic institutions and offering scholarships, intensives, mentoring and research opportunities to expand, attract and retain an increased number of women into their programs.

Johnson & Johnson’s goal is to reach 1 million girls by 2020 in order to increase the success rate of young women enrolling in and completing higher education and pursuing careers in STEM.

“The fact is that diversification of the STEM graduate pool and workforce is not proceeding at a pace we’re satisfied with,” Kathy Wengel, worldwide vice president, Johnson & Johnson supply chain, said in a statement.

In less than 10 years, the U.S. will need 1.7 million more engineers and computer scientists. Yet, despite the fact that STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts, women in the workforce represent just 28 percent of science and engineering occupations. 

 “I’m confident that, with the partnership of FHI 360 and Junior Achievement Worldwide, we’ll have the global reach and influence to spark interest of girls in these fields to open up brand new possibilities for them,” Wengel said.

Her colleague, Meri Stevens, vice president, strategy and development, Johnson & Johnson supply chain, knows just how much of a challenge it will be. 

“For many girls who start out strong in math and science, interest wanes along the way. There is clear evidence supporting the fact that girls and young women often receive social cues — regularly reinforced in conscious and subconscious ways by parents, schoolteachers, university professors and even managers on the job — that they can’t compete with male counterparts and therefore shouldn’t pursue their goals in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Stevens said.

According to the American Association of University Women, women are consistently ranked significantly lower than men in competence, ability to be hired and mentoring based on their resumes before even entering the field; then, women engineers have been found to have lower job satisfaction due to observed sexist behavior and undermining behaviors by their supervisors and coworkers.

In short, education needs to start earlier for both genders in order to combat such stigmas.

“Careful research and analytics show that building awareness and increasing girls’ knowledge and engagement will help influence their decision to enter STEM2D careers,” Ivan Charner, director, FHI 360’s National Institute for Work and Learning, said.

“Junior Achievement is already a place for girls to learn entrepreneurship, financial literacy and workplace readiness skills on equal footing with boys,” Asheesh Advani, CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide, said. “This partnership allows us to create even more opportunities for girls to specifically build STEM2D skills and confidence.”

These are the foundations in which not only women leadership is successfully built upon, but also sustainable global economics, said Sandi Peterson, group worldwide chairman, Johnson & Johnson supply chain.

“We’re proud of the progress we’re making toward building a diverse workforce around the world and the contribution we are making to healthier lives and healthy communities,” Peterson said.

Meg Fry

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