What's next for media starlet, Miss USA 2013? Contrary to popular belief, she won't be heading for Hollywood. Rather, she's tackling the gender discrepancy in math and science.
The national pageant winner, along with the founder of LearnToProgram Media, Mark Lassoff, just launched a Kickstarter campaign yesterday to raise money for their upcoming web series. Dubbed Code Café, the webinar will feature Erin Brady learning how to code right along with viewers, in 9 episodes spanning two separate seasons. Lassoff and Brady hope to raise a total of $15,000 in crowdfunding, which will go towards production, editing, media costs and equipment. The series itself will be free of charge, thus attracting both individuals and schools.
"Over the course of my year as Miss USA, I had the opportunity to meet impactful women in the STEM industries," says Brady. This, she adds, alerted her to some pretty harsh realities: While 74 percent of girls in middle school express interest in pursuing STEM, less than 1 percent of high school girls opt to major in computer science in college. Only 14 percent of all engineers worldwide are women, and in the U.S., women are estimated to make just 77 cents for every male dollar earned.
Incidentally, studies show that many of the women who do pursue jobs in the tech world end up leaving for other fields. Generally speaking, it's not for lack of interest: Rampant sexism, which translates into an unsupportive work environment, is one commonly cited factor.
And it's not just women getting the short end of the stick: Many argue that the field itself suffers from the gender imbalance. "When you limit yourself to half of the population...we lose some of the best and the brightest," Lassoff told Inc.
The best way to tackle the issue, he says, is to get women interested in coding early. After all, coding has become a big part of "modern literacy...[It's the] sheer power to crunch numbers and solve really big problems." Indeed, everyone from politicians to NBA stars to venture capitalists seem to agree that coding is the one, sure-fire career booster in almost any industry. And with Miss USA at this project's helm, Lassoff hopes to attract plenty of young female talent.
Code Café isn't the only initiative aiming to make Tech more egalitarian--just look at startups like GoldieBlox, a toymaker that gets girls interested in engineering. The company landed a SuperBowl commercial earlier this year, and also won the "Educational Toy of the Year" award for a product that helps girls build belt-drive machines.
Such projects suggest that an uptick for women in STEM may certainly be in our future. But if the persistent pay gap--and high-profile sexist work conditions--are any indication, society still has a long way to go if we want to get them (and keep them) there.