AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Girl Scout, Anaita Merchant has her organization’s Gold Award in her sights, but her focus is on a much larger prize.
“I’ve been on an all-girls robotics team since I was a sixth-grader and a lot of the girls in high school were pursuing their Gold Awards,” said Merchant. “I really looked up to them.”
This path led Merchant to create a career fair project this year which brings together students and women leaders in the tech industry — examples for girls to look up to.
Merchant hosted a STEM career fair for 400 female students Friday morning at the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
The career fair is designed to meet her Gold Award requirements:
- 80 hours or more of dedicated work time
- Develop sustainable solutions to local and global issues
Merchant focused on the gender gap in the STEM workforce and tech talent pipeline. She said of the issue: “Just being on the robotics team, going to competitions… you can clearly see that there’s not that many girls going into STEM. Even within my classes in school. I’m one of the only girls in my STEM classes.”
What she’s witnessed gives her motivation.
I really wanted to make sure in the future, STEM is more of a balanced field and a safe space for girls. That they feel they can truly go after what they want to do just because they have the support of having other girls there.Merchant
And she’s not alone in the effort. The women tech leaders spoke to rotating classes of girls. One of those leaders is Dell Global Program Manager Tracy Williams.
Williams said of Merchant’s effort: “I think this is a tremendous opportunity… There is a huge gap… in my opinion, there need to be more women and more girls that start early and understand that they can make a difference, and they can have a full career. Technology is just so open.”
The more we can encourage these girls to continue on their paths I think it’ll be better for the industry, better for the business and I think it’ll be better overall.Williams
The career fair press release states “the United States is facing a STEM labor crisis.” It attributes that “girls lack confidence in their ability in STEM” as to why women do not consider careers in such fields.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to mentor them. I really feel that if they have more role models, and they see more role models in STEM, I think that will encourage them to know that ‘hey, they can do it, I can do it,'” Williams said. “I think it’s also up to some of us that are in the earlier generations to make sure that we continue that particular pipeline.”