CLOSING THE IMAGINATION GAP FOR GIRLS
Math Opens Doors and Levels the Playing Field
Series Note: Career Girls founder Linda Calhoun shares insights distilled from her in-depth interviews of over 700 women role models — each article devoted to exploring the skills and attitudes that advance girls’ intellectual, social and emotional learning for success in both life and career. First up: Math.
Give Math the Attention It Deserves
The math that girls learn during their school years isn’t just busy work. And the math they don’t learn will narrow their future choices. Like most of us, I want to broaden their choices.
Let’s face it: Math is everywhere, and acquiring math skills will help girls succeed in their future careers and in life.
Think about it… Most careers require math in one form or another. Logically, it’s important for girls to understand how useful and meaningful math can be in creating the life of their choosing and achieving their dreams.
Sparking Conversations About Math
So, how can you help a young person understand the importance of math?
Talk on a regular basis to the girls that you champion about their concerns and ideas related to math.
One good starting point is the Career Girls’ Importance of Math video. It’s a short compilation of role models providing useful facts, tips, advice and ideas that you can share with the girls in your life.
Use these role model insights to open up the conversations. Keep encouraging girls’ confidence, curiosity and determination to develop solid math skills.
Many of the insights from that video are foundational to the six points below.
One: The Difference is Math
No matter your career choice, understanding math will give you an undeniable advantage. Math skills will be needed throughout your life — as a chef or oceanographer or human resources specialist or wherever your passion takes you.
“Math opens doors. If you can do math, you can do well in any other subject.”
— Jacquelyn Sims, Mathematician
“You might need these skills to become a teacher, a professor, a financial adviser, or a cook — or for almost any career. So, math is really important. Make sure you’re keeping up with that and growing and selecting as many math opportunities as you can.”
— Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D., Professor of Education
“Girls tell me: ‘Math isn’t something I like or that I want to do.’ I tell them all the time that those are the skills that are going to get you further in life…Those skills that you learn in those classes are so invaluable and you’ll use them in all sorts of different manners.”
— Imelda Reyes, Clinical Associate Professor of Nursing
Two: Math and Money
To be financially independent and have control over your life, you will need to understand math. It’s not enough to rely on a calculator, your parents or a future partner.
“Math is very important now because it equates to money later. If you don’t know how to calculate the amount of change that you should receive back or if you don’t understand what that salary you will receive equates to on a monthly basis, how are you able to determine what type of house can I afford, what type of car can I drive?
Financial literacy is the foundation of how you will be able to provide for yourself now and in the future.”
— Keisha Perry Walker, Esq., Entertainment Attorney
“Literally, I use math every day. Even when I’m shopping, you’re using math and logic, you know, to calculate how much money you have. When you’re using your budget, you have to make sure that you’re staying on budget and how much money did I spend and how much money do I have? So, the whole thing is nothing but math.”
— Shauna Williams, Production Designer
Three: Math is a Language
Dissolve the myth that math is too scary or hard to understand. If you treat math as a language made up of numbers and symbols, then it starts to flow like a story. You can literally read it like that.
“I believe that girls should study math because math is a universal language. It’s a language that even if your native language is Spanish or your native language is English, everyone understands numbers.
It’s a way to communicate not only across cultural barriers and language barriers, but also across professions.”
— Latoya Simmons, Epidemiologist/Emergency Management Specialist
Four: Math is a Framework
By its nature, math gives you a framework to process information. It helps you to understand the world around you and to make better decisions.
“Math is important for girls to study because it gives them an opportunity to learn how to process information. Even if a particular girl doesn’t go into math or she doesn’t seek it as a potential career, it still gives her the necessary skills she needs in her everyday life or her career.”
— Shacara Johnson, Epidemiologist
“Math is everywhere. Next time you’re walking around, take a look and think about the different places in everyday life where math is needed to calculate angles, to make sure buildings don’t fall on our heads. It’s needed in so many different ways in everyday life and it’s important that you continue to study math because you want to contribute to all the different ways it’s used to benefit society.”
— Angelique Diaz, Environmental Engineer
Five: Math is Beautiful
Embrace the beauty of math and follow your natural curiosity along a path of discovery.
“First of all, there is curiosity. Then there is an ability to appreciate the beauty of mathematical objects. Then, importantly, persistence — and bullheadedness.”
— Fern Hunt, Mathematician
“Embracing math, even if it’s challenging for you, is critically important for wherever you’re going to go in life. And I really would encourage girls to make sure they’re learning it and also recognize that there’s different types of math, just like there are different types of science, right? There’s all sorts… geometry… algebra… calculus… And you might find that one of those speaks to you more than the others. Don’t be dissuaded if one of them does not really grab you because the next one might.”
— Jodie Morrison, Board Chair, Ribon Therapeutics
Six: Math and Confidence
Approach learning math with confidence. You can do it! You truly can learn anything if you set your mind to it.
“There is still part of me that thinks: ‘What if I hadn’t been intimidated by the math?’ I would be an architect today. And I still have that passion but it’s not my profession only because I let something scare me away.
So my message to girls today is: ‘Don’t let something scare you away. Take a look at it and have the confidence that you can do it. Follow your passion.’”
— Sabina Burns, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing
“The journey of trying — you’re going to make yourself more resilient and, ultimately, you’re going to accomplish things you never thought possible.”
— Devin Cook, Associate Director, Technology
The Last Word
We’ll leave that honor to our Role Model Charmin Roundtree-Baaqee:
My own lived experiences as a black woman today, and as a black girl growing up in the United States, shape how I see the world — both its problems and potential solutions.
The problem I most wanted to address is what I’ve come to call the Imagination Gap. Something was holding girls back from meeting their full potential — and it wasn’t a lack of ability. For many girls, the dots were simply not being connected.
My solution was the creation of Career Girls, a nonprofit organization that now has its wings throughout the world. Its global platform speaks to girls around the globe and empowers them to take control of their lives. And, it offers useful tools for the adults and educators in their lives.
I conducted video interviews with over 700 women and now share the hard-fought lessons from this inclusive and diverse group of women we call the Career Girls Role Models. In down-to-earth, realistic videos, these accomplished Role Models clearly explain, highlight and underscore the skills needed in an array of careers. They take a deeper dive into the concepts behind these skills and provide insights gained from their own education and careers. Ultimately, they answer the all-important question as to why those skills are needed to be successful in work and in life overall.
Career Girls is founded on the dream that every girl around the world has access to diverse and accomplished women role models — to learn from their experiences and to discover their own path to empowerment. Our mission is to Close the Imagination Gap.™
Note from author Linda Calhoun: At Career Girls, we crowdsource. I hope you are moved by the hard-won words of wisdom and advice from our Role Models. To all the women who contributed to this article, we are grateful and inspired:
Jacquelyn Sims, Mathematician; Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D., Professor of Education at Lasell University in Newton, MA; Shauna Williams, Production Designer; Keisha Perry Walker, Esq., Entertainment Attorney at The Perry Law Group in Atlanta, GA; Sundari Mitra, Tech Executive; Latoya Simmons, Epidemiologist/Emergency Management Specialist; Sabina Burns, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing; Angelique Diaz, Environmental Engineer; Shacara Johnson, Epidemiologist; Fern Hunt, Mathematician, National Institute of Standards and Technology; Devin Cook, Associate Director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy in Cambridge, MA; Jodie Morrison, Board Chair, Ribon Therapeutics; Imelda Reyes, Clinical Associate Professor at Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University in Atlanta, GA; and Charmin Roundtree-Baaqee, Engineer, Art Committee Chair, and Lead Curator at East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, CA.
About the author — Linda Calhoun is the founder and CEO of Career Girls. Career Girls is a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the imagination gap for girls around the world.