This message goes out to all the school age girls living in the Tri-Cities: This summer, enjoy your time off from school. Go to the aquatic center. Have friends over and stay up late. Catch fireflies, roast marshmallows, listen to music and eat lots of pie – apple pie, key lime pie, strawberry pie, chocolate cream pie – whatever pie you want. Let everyone know, “I like pie!”
Then, once school starts back, I’d like for you to do something that will help you for years to come. Every evening, Monday through Thursday, take 15 extra minutes to study math. That’s just one extra hour a week (a little math there) and I promise you, it will pay off in a big, big way.
I’ll tell you how I know. I talked last month at the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit with two ladies who work for NASA. One of them is originally from the Tri-Cities. They both told me that the business world is desperate to hire young women for careers in science, technology and engineering – the math fields.
I also heard from the heads of the engineering schools at two of the best colleges of engineering in the South, the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Tech. Both said they have scholarships ready and waiting for qualified female students.
The dean of the University of Tennessee College of Engineering said, “We admit every qualified student who applies to our University of Tennessee College of Engineering, and yet even then, we only have 16 percent women.” Think of that! For every three female engineering students in Knoxville right now, there are almost 17 males (more math).
Why does this matter? Why is it important for a young woman to go into a field where she’s desperately wanted by both higher education and employers? Well, to understand that, you have to know some facts about women in the workplace overall.
Women in America make less money to do the same work as men. That’s not politics or spin. It’s a fact. In Tennessee, during 2013, the last year for which we have these numbers, median earnings for men in Tennessee were $41,493 compared to women’s median earnings of $34,301 — an earnings ratio of just 83 percent (more math, though you may not like that problem so much). In the first congressional district of Tennessee the ratio was 82 percent. For every dollar a man was paid, a woman was paid 82 cents. The national average is 78 cents to the dollar.
Yet a recent study found that systems engineers, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers were paid almost exactly the same whether they were men or women. In fact, women earned more as systems engineers and mechanical engineers than their male counterparts.
Now is it easier to see why those math skills are important? The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that at the current rate of closure, the wages of the average male and female across the board will equate in the year 2056. Do you really want to wait that long?
The good news is that if you start excelling at math now, you will be ahead of the game. Girls are still staying away from math-related careers in droves. So with just a little extra study time each evening, you can put yourself way out front.
And trust me when I tell you that your math teachers in school are eager to help you succeed. They get paid more when you do well.
So girls, enjoy this summer, then go back to school and trade liking pie for liking pi. It may not be that many years before you check your bank account and find thousands of reasons to be glad you did.