Barra to Girl Scouts: “We Need You” to Become GM Engineers

Following a $1 million partnership the Girl Scouts of America at the end of July, GM CEO Mary Barra took to the (webinar) stage to speak to the Girl Scouts of America.

“The auto world is considering how people move […] and that is changing,” said Barra, per the Detroit Free Press. “We need more women who are studying STEM in school and in college because we need you.”

And that’s exactly what the million-dollar grant GM announced for the Girl Scouts seeks to do. The program hopes to encourage girls to become leaders in STEM-based careers. Although the program is being conducted with the Girl Scouts, any girl, not just a scout, is eligible to receive help from the program.

One of the first steps is a curriculum of automotive badges that Girl Scouts can earn to help nurture an interest in cars and engineering. Moreover, say the Girl Scouts, from kindergarten to fifth grade can participate in new STEM programming.

Says Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo: “They’re not just badges, they’re kind of like credentials. They’re bullet points for your resume.”

In many ways, Acevedo was well placed to take on this partnership. As a former NASA engineer, she made a career through STEM programming.

It bears mentioning that the program is an important one since STEM programs are still disproportionally male-dominated. Barra, herself, is an example of being outnumbered. Not only is she the only female CEO of a major automotive company, she’s the first.

That’s a problem because, as Brigham Young University political-science professor Jessica R. Preece found, being outnumbered makes women less likely to be heard and speak up. From BYU Magazine:

However inadvertent, the gender dynamics shutting women down are real, says Preece. The environment, she emphasizes, doesn’t have to be hostile. “Multiple things can be true at once. You can simultaneously like the people you’re working with and still let biases creep in.”

Rather than outright misogyny, she says it’s usually cultural norms and gendered messages that subtly—and profoundly—shape the rules of engagement. Individuals who suppress female speech may do so unwittingly. “They may love women,” says Preece. “They may even be a woman!” But as a society we have been “slowly socialized over years to discount” female expertise and perspectives.

So getting more women into STEM programs and into GM and into the room is a solution that will help empower women and help them be heard.

And that’s a message that works internally, too, as Barra expressed in her closing statement to the Girl Scouts.

“The more things you do, the more confidence you’ll gain,” Barra said. “Find your passion because when you’re an adult you’ll be doing it all your life, and science and math will play some part in it.”

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