Why it’s time to elevate STEM to #STEEM for girls, America’s success

For nearly two decades, STEM has become the focus – from Washington to schools to corporate investments for talent.

Don’t get us wrong. We think STEM education is vital to preparing minds that can compete in the Future of Work – and to increasing the ranks of women in higher paying professions. But the acronym is acutely inadequate and incomplete if the U.S. hopes to remain a leader in global innovation.

But it’s time we build upon the federal report — Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education. – and advance STEM to STEEM.

STEEM (science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, and mathematics) is the academic ecosystem that will nurture the talent we need to bring forth the next generation’s World Wide Web, ‘man on the moon’ moment, or polio vaccine.

Allow us to summarize the reasons why the U.S. must make STEEM, not just STEM, an educational priority in 2019 and beyond.


  • Innovation will stall with STEM-only focus  – Getting a man to the moon 50 years ago or starting eBay or Amazon took more than a STEM education – it took the ability to see a problem, innovate a solution, and lead the execution. In short, entrepreneurship.

Today, while our young people have  innovative ideas and a strong desire to impact their world, they have no place to turn to advance it into a real business. As Sarah Tretler told us, while her school offers a business class, it “doesn’t allow me to bring it to life.”

STEM is an important building block to innovation and jobs – but it’s not the sole ingredient. In fact, Girls With Impact is already seeing 38% of girl-led ventures falling in the STEM space.

If we limit ourselves to investing and talking only about STEM, we will limit America’s ability to innovate and compete globally – to create the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey and Oprah Winfrey.   Among high schoolers and middle schoolers today, 41% say they plan on starting their own business, and 45% say they will invent something that will change the world.


  • Entrepreneurship drives jobs. According to one study, entrepreneurs were on track to create more than twice the number of jobs as large legacy companies. They are the trailblazers of brand-new products and services and the disruptors of established industry by finding ways to deliver cheaper, faster, more reliably, and with a more elegant design.

In our era of hyper-innovation, complacency and stagnation equal death. It’s China’s promotion of entrepreneurial initiative that’s nipping at the heels of Silicon Valley while creating millions of jobs. If we don’t cultivate and motivate this spirit within our own citizenry, we are guaranteed to lose our global edge and threaten our future economic development.


  • STEM risks trapping women as doers. By focusing solely on STEM, we risk perpetuating the role of women as doers in the economy rather than leaders. Despite the sharp rise of women who now hold MBAs and STEM degrees, only 20% of women enjoy leadership positions in industry. Worse, the World Economic Forum predicts another 202 before women begin to earn the same pay as men.

Research from New York University Stern School of Business shows that traditional labor markets can reinforce existing biases. Entrepreneurship, however, provides highly talented workers, including women, the opportunity to overcome these biases.

By equipping young women with the skills to lead, innovate and create – Girls With Impact has seen an increase of nearly 2x in young women’s perceptions of themselves as leaders and a greater ability to differentiate themselves before both investors and college admissions officers.

Clearly, the U.S. has an enormous opportunity to take the lead on reversing this crisis and promoting greater economic participation for women by recognizing them as national assets to encourage and train in entrepreneurship at the earliest possible age.


  • The Gig Economy demands new work skills. An entrepreneurial mindset is also critical to succeeding in the growing Gig Economy, where the number of self-employed Americans is expected to exceed 40 million by 2020.

As parents and policy leaders, we can’t expect our students to maneuver in a world where a steady paycheck is no longer the norm. In order to compete and succeed in the Future of Work, the next generation must to be groomed now to be nimble, adaptable, and flexible – and with cross-functional team engagement.


  • Entrepreneurship can improve diversity in colleges, businessSimilar to corporate America, our schools face a fraction of students in business who are women. In fact, research shows that among college venture competitions, only 22% of participants are women. That’s no surprise, but what is, is that a staggering 51% of the ranking teams (those business teams placing first, second or third) had a female founder.

If it pays to have younger women on business teams, doesn’t this suggest we educate them earlier?

To our surprise, we are finding that once teen girls have undergone our entrepreneurship training, a whopping 80% say they are more likely to major in business or entrepreneurship. Further, a portion of these young women are entering college and receiving college scholarships for the business programs — $110,000 on average for those reporting – helping to close the gender gap and prepare these women to be real leaders in the workplace.


  • Intrapreneurship is embraced in Corporate America, too.

Publicly traded companies are quickly becoming an endangered species in America. Between 1996 and 2016, our stock exchanges have lost half of our domestic listings. In the rush to avoid extinction from entrepreneurial competition in Silicon Valley, China, or elsewhere, U.S. companies have in recent years embraced innovation labs and Chief Innovation Officers.

These hubs or labs are dedicated to entrepreneurship. They identify problems and develop innovative solutions. Even titans of industry understand that no one is safe. Without innovation, they will quickly fade away as fast-moving innovators enter markets with better customer value propositions. EY’s innovation lab, for example, has spawned new digital tax solutions that have turned into stand-alone businesses led by women.


Summary: The use of STEM is outdated

The world is moving fast and we’ll either innovate or we’ll die. The STEM skills – science, technology, engineering and math – are critical to our workforce and growth. But equally important – if not more so – is entrepreneurship.

Whether a student’s skills or strengths lie in math, music, or medicine, it’s clear that understanding entrepreneurship and how to apply it to these principals in the real world is absolutely essential. Employers today demand more. They are saying to new hires, “Show me what you’ve done” – and rightly so.

Entrepreneurship not only complements the existing STEM framework, it builds upon it. It provides the next generation with the tools and mindset to apply STEM to take on problems and move them forward into viable solutions. It helps us build leaders, not just workers. It helps ensure that our educational system avoids the age-old failure of, for example, producing doctors who lack any understanding of how to run a medical practice.

Let’s join together in changing the educational vocabulary from STEM to STEEM (the ‘e’ for entrepreneurship) and ensure America is setting the pace for global innovation in the Future of Work.