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How Increasing Visibility for Women in STEM Will Inspire the Next Generation

Less than a dozen statues of real American women exist in publicly accessible spaces in the ten most populated U.S. cities according to a recent study. These numbers highlight a powerful issue in the fight for diversity, gender equality, and representation of women — public visibility.

The ability to see and celebrate female accomplishments throughout history and in present day is limited — not due to a lack of accomplishments, but due to a lack of awareness for them. Images of modern-day women are missing from our outdoor spaces, museums, textbooks, and media. The issue becomes even more dire when considering women in STEM, especially women of color. Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN® Initiative has decided it is time for sweeping change.

Changing the perspective

Designed to activate a culture shift among young girls, Lyda Hill Philanthropies®’ IF/THEN® Initiative has worked for nearly two years to create #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit, a monumental exhibit of more than 120 female statues — the most statues of women ever assembled in one location. The 3D statue exhibit is comprised of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) IF/THEN® Ambassadors, female STEM professionals of all ages and diverse backgrounds working in a variety of careers who were selected to serve as role models for middle school girls and to inspire them to explore STEM careers. The Exhibit, which is on display at Dallas’ NorthPark Center through October, is changing the perspective of what it looks like to be a STEM professional.

Each of the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors has a unique story to tell that can be explored through the IF/THEN® Collection. Managed by the National Girls Collaborative Project, the IF/THEN® Collection is the largest free digital resource of its kind available, with thousands of photos and videos of contemporary women in STEM.  

Increasing visibility

To promote the Collection’s resources, IF/THEN® teamed up with the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and its network of nearly 400 centers and museums across 

the country through the IF/THEN® Gender Equity Grant program. More than fifty of ASTC’s members have since been awarded grants to increase representation of women and gender minorities in their exhibits, increasing the visibility of women engaged in science and technology in a place where historically only 21 percent of exhibit images represent women in STEM roles.

Additionally, the nonprofit DonorsChoose hosted the IF/THEN® Collection Innovation Challenge to inspire use of Collection resources with a dollar-for-dollar matching program for teachers who create classroom projects designed to leverage the Collection. The goal was simple — to highlight the diversity and representation in STEM careers and ignite a student’s interest using imagery of women in STEM. The Innovation Challenge supported more than 1,500 K-12 teachers; funded more than 3,300 projects; reached more than 1,100 schools across the country; and distributed 50,000 classroom posters featuring images from the IF/THEN® Collection.

Shaping the future

When you ask a young girl, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you’ll get all kinds of different answers. The IF/THEN® Initiative, through its incredible Ambassadors, diverse Collection, and one-of-a-kind Exhibit, hopes to inspire answers like, “I want to be a mechanical engineer that teaches robots how to dance,” or “I want to be the woman whose statue I saw at the park yesterday.”IF she can see it, THEN she can be it.

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