The organization hopes to get the number of girls in its classes to 40 percent twice the current percentage in the engineering profession, said Westermo.
Participation in tech-related activities that build confidence, often in a single-sex setting; information about the diverse career opportunities; and exposure to female role models are common threads in programs to keep girls in the tech mix. Some start with segregating the genders in a calculated effort to allow girls, often less competitive in the classroom, to shine.
That's the thinking at Dallas-based semiconductor manufacturer Texas Instruments Inc., where 10 senior women in the company decided to pool their intellectual resources and their own cash and take matters into their own hands. Five years ago they formed the Women of TI Fund, which now has 40 participants and financial assistance from the women's employer. The group works to increase the number of girls who are ready to enter university technical-degree programs when they graduate from high school, said Melendy Lovett, president of TI's educational division.
The organization is covering the costs of a two-week summer program in Dallas and is mentoring the girls in it. The camp is aimed at the juncture in where girls often remove themselves from the engineering track: high school advanced-placement physics. American Association of University Women statistics indicate that although girls make up 56 percent of all AP course takers, they are not as likely as boys to take physics, calculus and computer science.
The Dallas camp is meant not only to give the girls a jump-start in the content of their physics classes but also to increase their confidence. Last summer, 47 girls attended one group of 15 pre-AP seniors and one group of 32 juniors, some of whom were headed toward physics and some not.
"The goal is to get 90 percent of them to enroll in a physics class for the next year," said a TI spokeswoman. AP physics is the preference because its nationally standardized tests show unarguable results, she said. "We'd love for them to pursue engineering, but even if they don't, they could pursue any other form of science and math, or teach them in a gender-neutral classroom setting," the spokeswoman said.
Gender-neutral but not necessarily single-sex classrooms are a huge help to girls in high school math and science classes but they are not always the case, by far, TI's Lovett said.
"One of the major obstacles for women in learning math and science is the way it's taught," she said. That has been confirmed by the experiences of the women at TI, Lovett said.
And that's where the group's Gender Parity Initiative comes into the picture. The Women of TI Fund pays for a program to train Dallas-area public high school math and science instructors to be aware of how their methods affect the girls in their classes.
In four sessions during the academic year, male and female teachers are videotaped to find out if they are unconsciously calling on boys more often than girls or allowing boys to monopolize laboratory equipment, for example.
By all reports, the results have been positive. Many teachers, men and women alike, were surprised to see that they favored the boys, Lovett said. They have reported they changed their classroom style as a result of the experience one technique was simply to separate the boys and girls for classwork and that has had a direct effect on girls' participation.
"The students got comfortable with taking on less-traditional roles in math and science classrooms," Lovett said.
Some corporations are tackling the problem on a larger scale. IBM Corp. runs free, weeklong tech and engineering summer day camps for girls around the world.