As a young girl, I sat quietly in the back of my classroom, not believing that I was a “science” kid. At least until I was lucky to land in class with a fabulous teacher whose mentoring, enthusiasm, and energy convinced me to give science a try.
I’m not the only one who didn’t picture herself as a scientist. The statistics are grim: Only 24% of STEM jobs are occupied by women – a rate that is pretty much unchanged over the past decade. And even though more women than men attend college, just 27% of STEM students are women, and only one-quarter of those actually end up in STEM careers. All of this anemic participation is even more surprising in light of the fact that it is happening in the middle of an economic environment where STEM careers are among the fastest growing career options, and women who work in STEM earn, on average, 33% more than those not in STEM.
There are a variety of reasons that may contribute to this under-representation of women in STEM, but many researchers argue that it can be traced to the societal stereotype of the scientist as an Albert Einstein-esque figure – a solitary, wild-haired, nerdy, old guy outfitted in a pristine white lab coat. There’s not much in that image that is interesting, or even relatable, to young girls. That’s where LabCandy comes in.
I founded LabCandy, a social enterprise incubated through the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, to encourage young girls to imagine themselves as scientists – creating, collaborating, and having fun. I designed products ranging from brightly colored, funky lab coats to rhinestone-encrusted lab goggles to send a clear message to young girls that the world of science is colorful and vivacious and has a place for them. I created our storybook characters to be smart and spunky role models designed to be relatable and welcoming to young girls. We raised over 100% of our project funding goal in less than three days of a month-long Kickstarter campaign – a sign that LabCandy’s approach to this issue is resonating with all types of people. Just as exciting, LabCandy is stoking a robust dialog among science, business, and education professionals about best ways to engage more girls in science and encouraging them to act on this mission. The more this issue becomes part of the public discourse, the better chances we have to make more forward progress.
As Eileen Pollack wrote in a 2013 New York Times article, “The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on.” When I shared an early prototype of my lab coat and goggles with my seven-year-old cousin, Ava, she put them on, looked in the mirror and asked, “Is this what a scientist looks like?” I told her “Yes, it is!” Her assured smile confirmed for me why I am committed to make this mission a reality. I’m proud that LabCandy is working to encourage young girls to joyfully sit in the front of science class with the confidence to envision themselves as a part of the STEM world. We’re literally changing the faces of science, and I hope that you will consider embarking on your own missions to encourage more girls in STEM – I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities!
By Olivia Pavco-Giaccia
Founder and CEO