Girls need a lot more than STEM education to become the next generation of women CEOs

As opposed to boys, who are taught to take chances early on in life, girls are often encouraged to be 'perfect ladies.'
Jeff J Mitchell—Getty Images

For more than a decade, STEM has been one of the hottest terms in education, especially when it comes to finally narrowing the gender gap and giving our girls an equal playing field in business and in life.

Science, technology, engineering, and math are essential subjects. An emphasis on encouraging women to study them, first embraced in the U.S. in the 1950s, has helped increase the number of women in “left-brain” fields from only eight percent in 1970 to nearly 30% today.

While there are now more women than ever before in the fields of medicine, statistics, research, and computing, a gender gap in wages remains stubbornly persistent. Women might be getting a seat at the table, but they largely don’t yet have the keys to the corner office because they aren’t in rainmaker roles–the jobs that bring in the money and often lead to the CEO position.

Of the top 500 S&P companies, women hold merely six percent of CEO positions. Of the 2,825 billionaires in the world, only 336 are women—and only about 100 of those women have fortunes that are self-made. 

This is not because women don’t have the drive or ambition to lead. It is among other things because the path to leadership is paved with cultural and behavioral gaps. As opposed to men, who are often taught to take a chance and go for it, as women, we are encouraged to be “perfect ladies”–polite and agreeable. This makes us afraid to dare and instills a fear of failure. We need to not only encourage, but train our girls to dare. We need to bridge these gaps by arming our young women with the core skills they need to become leaders.

In venture capital, there are more and more women joining the ranks but it’s still not easy to get selected and promoted within the industry. My partner, Mor Assia, and I circumvented that problem by starting our own firm, iAngels. But I can’t expect that to be the future for all our girls. As a mother of four–including two girls–what I want for our daughters is a clearer path. If we want the future to look different for women, we need to insist that schools also focus on developing leadership skills that foster real-world competence–the kind that teaches you, when faced with a door that won’t unlock, to figure out how to go in through the window. 

We must embrace a new kind of STEM education: Sales, Theater, Entrepreneurship, and Management. We must supplement the focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with more creative subjects that will build the skills necessary for success. We must teach young girls to build their confidence, oratory, and improvisation skills. We should train students to be entrepreneurial with an understanding of management principles.

To make it in any segment of the business world, the ability to give a good pitch whether it’s for a product, a business, or yourself, is an absolute requirement. The stage is the ultimate practice for pitching, negotiating, and handling unforeseen issues. To be a leader or an entrepreneur, one must understand how to tell a story, how to capture an audience and how to stay cool and calm under scrutiny.  

Entrepreneurship is the skill of having both the self-confidence and the audacity to head out in the world and build something from nothing. For example, my daughters enjoy designing bracelets and selling them in the neighborhood to save money for things they want. This is also a skill we should be teaching in schools. Perhaps the most important skill as an adult is the ability to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Entrepreneurship trains you in building your own reality.

In most C-level positions, you must be able to mentor, guide, and manage people. Each employee requires different attention, focus, and guidance. As a manager, you need to understand when to jump in, and when to take a step back and let your employees shine. This can be taught in school or through extracurricular activities, such as scouting. Throughout these activities, there must be an understanding that leadership needs to flow in both directions. Even the youngest students (or siblings) can be put in charge of others to lead small teams or spearhead initiatives.

There is no question that STEM is valuable, necessary, and critical for women’s careers. We’ve seen how encouraging our girls to focus on STEM has increased the number of women in technical fields, building on the progress paved by some brave trailblazers. However, for the next generation of girls to have a fair shot at becoming the CEOs and entrepreneurs that they can be, we need to adapt their education to include all the necessary skills needed to succeed.

Shelly Hod Moyal is a founding partner and co-CEO of iAngels, and a general partner at iAngels Ventures Fund. An international finance and investment expert, Shelly is a sought-after authority regarding Israeli tech investing across disparate verticals. She serves as a board member of numerous portfolio companies under iAngels’ purview.

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