When Verizon Wireless decided to offer a free summer camp to boost minority representation in math and science fields, the company apparently forgot that girls, too, are underrepresented. The STEM camp, held annually at Florida International University, is for boys only.
The program's exclusion of girls has drawn the ire of Miami's chapter of the National Organization for Women, which recently sent out an email blasting Verizon's "All Boys' Club" as an example of gender discrimination. Chapter president Simone Allison says allowing only boys to participate contributes to girls' reluctance to pursue STEM classes and careers.
"It shouldn't be done in 2019," she tells New Times. "It just shouldn't."
FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana says the program “is just one of many” the university offers to engage underrepresented groups. Meanwhile, Verizon spokeswoman Kate Jay says the program, which exposes kids to STEM careers through activities like robotics and flying drones through obstacle courses, was designed with a focus on serving only boys. Verizon Innovative Learning's Out of School, as it is called, "has demonstrated great success," she says in an email.
It wasn't until 2017 that the company realized girls might also benefit from learning about science and math jobs. That year, Verizon partnered with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship to create a program for middle-school girls, specifically those in rural communities. Nearly 250 girls attended the program at five community colleges in Tennessee, Virginia, and Iowa.
"The impact was overwhelmingly positive and the program was expanded to include 16 community colleges serving over 1,300 girls," Jay says.
But it isn't available in Miami or anywhere near Miami. In fact, the closest program for girls is at Tampa's Hillsborough Community College — almost 300 miles away.
"That's not good enough," Allison says. "If they're doing this knowing that there is nothing equivalent like this for girls, then I think that's gender inequality right there."
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Verizon is trying to tackle a legitimate problem: Research shows minority representation in science and engineering is seriously lagging, and the majority of scientists and engineers in this country are white. According to the National Science Foundation, Hispanics account for just 6 percent of the field despite being 15 percent of the U.S. population, while blacks make up 5 percent of the labor force and 12 percent of the population.
Women are also chronically underrepresented. Even though the number of women in science and engineering has doubled in the past 20 years, women — who, as a reminder, make up half the population — still constitute only 28 percent of the field.
Part of the problem, studies have shown, is the stereotype that girls aren't as good as boys at math and science. That's why Allison says limiting STEM opportunities to boys is so problematic.
"Girls naturally pick up on the subliminal messages that say, 'OK, boys are better,'" she says. "This is doing girls a great disservice."