Summer/Fall 2014
YOUTH

Taking the Future of Girls and Young Women in New Directions

By Jennifer Blemur, Esq., NBCSL Policy Associate serves as a Policy Associate for NBCSL. Ms. Blemur staffs several committees including Health and Human Services and Law, Justice, and Ethics. A recently barred lawyer in the state of Maryland, Ms. Blemur maintains a passion for justice and fair play for the underserved. Prior to joining NBCSL, Ms. Blemur worked with the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary and the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Taking the Future of Girls and Young Women in New Directions

The state of young women and girls is evolving and has been for the last few decades.  With a greater push towards higher educational attainment, professional development, and increased civic engagement, young women are poised to take the helm in new arenas.  The increase in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curricula is giving girls and young women more opportunities to become skilled in careers that have been predominately male.  Those skills can also be parlayed into creating their own businesses developing software and creating tech companies.  Entrepreneurship is surging among girls and young women. 

Businesses operated by women of color, are growing rapidly and will continue to have an impact on our economy.  Young women are also impacting our economy through their civic involvement and their increased participation in the electorate.  Organizations are looking to cultivate leadership among women of color that will influence our nation for the better.  By concentrating on developing new skills for young women and girls of color, private and public stakeholders stand to make incredible changes that can and will revitalize communities.  Legislators can facilitate these changes by creating initiatives to build environments supporting the development of these and other skills that will improve the lives of girls and young women.

Ready, Set, Code!

In the race towards technological advancement, girls and women are often left behind.  While girls tend to outpace their male counterparts in reading and writing, they are still playing catch up in science and math.  Through targeted curricula and programs, more girls of color have an opportunity to close that gap.  The Obama administration has recognized a need to include more young women in STEM professions and has worked with different agencies, such as the Department of Energy, to create mentoring programs.  Several nonprofits have also recognized this need and are dedicating their efforts to providing mentorship and education to girls.  

Black Girls Code is a national nonprofit dedicated to developing coding skills in girls of color.  Its mission is “to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.” Through their programs and events, girls can become competitive players in their future occupations.  Girls learn how to build web pages, create mobile apps, and several other tenets of computer programming.  Another initiative that focuses on bringing girls and young women into science and engineering fields is the Imagine Engineering program through the Girls Scouts of America.  Imagine Engineering provides girls, aged 13-17 years old, with information on different engineering disciplines and ways to connect with professionals through other national organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers.  Nurturing an interest in engineering and math is another way to prepare girls to be competitive players in the future workforce. 

Increased policy action on STEM education can impact the lives of girls by giving them more opportunities to get involved.  One way to increase STEM education in the classroom is to create incentives for STEM teachers to teach in underserved communities, such as Florida’s Critical Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program, which provides individuals loan forgiveness to teach in critical teacher shortage areas.  Another way to improve STEM education standards is to provide classrooms with the technology needed to enhance learning.  The National Black Caucus of State Legislators has traditionally supported the E-rate program and increased broadband internet access in schools.  Additionally, legislators can increase STEM involvement by forming public-private partnerships geared toward providing youth with the skills employers seek.  Oregon and Maryland have both formed councils of education officials and private businesses working together to develop curricula that strengthen STEM courses and improve student STEM skills.  By bringing attention to the educational gap, organizations and legislators can be effective in increasing minority female participation in the STEM field. 

Winning the Purse

Women of color have been a growing population in the entrepreneur community.  Specifically, Black women are both the fastest growing group in the women-owned business population and the largest share of female business owners among women of color.1  Black women are starting businesses at a rate six times the national average, and their 2.7 million firms are currently generating $226.8 billion in annual revenue and employing almost 1.4 million people.2  Entrepreneurship programs geared towards youth are giving communities of color a head start in building businesses and attaining wealth.  The Small Business Administration hosts an online course that teaches young people the fundamentals of starting their own business and how to run it successfully.  

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship is another organization dedicated to teaching youth from low-income neighborhoods business skills through classroom applications and summer camps.  Youth entrepreneurship not only teaches valuable skills, but it can also help decrease youth unemployment.  Encouraging entrepreneurship education in the classroom is one way legislators can increase the number of young people, especially girls, developing businesses that can help their local communities.  Using input from private businesses, Indiana and other states have developed entrepreneurship curricula for middle and high schools students.  These curricula can be taught alone or incorporated into existing school materials.   

Support for female entrepreneurs can also increase the number of successful female minority-owned businesses.  Walker’s Legacy is a national organization dedicated to developing leadership, networking skills, and providing learning opportunities for women of color.  Through Walker’s Legacy, women find mutual support and exchange ideas.  In a world where women of color are the fastest growing population, it is imperative that they find equal access to opportunities.  Minority and women- owned business enterprises (MWBEs) often face difficulties in bidding for contracts.  Legislators can pass legislation that will encourage business owners to use MWBEs by providing them with incentives.  They can also pass legislation similar to SB 6667 in the state of Washington, which creates action plans with entrepreneurs to increase capital.

“Women Belong in the House….and the Senate” 

Young Black women are finding their voice, and the voting booth serves as one of their most powerful echo chambers.  In the 2012 election, Black women represented nearly 60% of Black voters.  Despite their presence at the polls, there remains a dearth of women of color in elected positions.  Of the 100 members of the United States Senate, only 20 of them are women; additionally there are 79 representatives in the House and three serving as delegates.3  At the state level, women of color make up 21 percent of the 1,789 women serving in state legislatures, with Black women totaling only 241 state legislators out of over 7,300.4  With such low numbers, organizations such as the Political Institute for Women and its Girls in Politics Initiative are working to introduce girls and young women to the political world at an early age. 

Girls in Politics reaches girls aged 7 to 17 years old through their Camp Congress for Girls and their Camp United Nations for Girls.  At Camp Congress for Girls, a year-round multi-city program, girls learn about the branches of government and how to operate in Congress.  Girls also learn how to create their own political campaigns, run for office, vote, and convene a session of Congress.  The program ends with the camp President signing a bill into law the girls have developed.  The Camp United Nations for Girls focuses on the world of international politics and allows the girls to work as UN delegates.  As a part of this program, the girls learn about the United Nations and its bodies and research their assigned countries.  They then call a General Assembly, draft a resolution and vote to adopt.  Between both camps, girls learn more about the political sphere and learn to become more aware of the world around them. 

Engaging girls and young women in politics is not out of reach for legislators.  Opportunities include working with school boards to strengthen civics and government education, sponsoring days at state capitols, and supporting organizations that have programs geared toward civic engagement. Involving girls in politics at an early age can ensure their participation when they get older.  In states such as Tennessee and Virginia, legislators are calling on school boards to incorporate civics education into their instruction for middle and high school students.  Civics education that discusses the branches of government, obligations of state, federal and local government, and includes the importance of citizen involvement, not only informs students but can encourage future participation in government.   

By developing and nurturing political interests, young girls can now turn that interest and passion into action by reaching out to groups like Higher Heights for America and She Should Run.  These organizations are cultivating Black women and other women of color for service in elected positions.  Candidates of color often face challenges in mounting successful campaigns.  Sometimes due to a lack of know-how or a lack of funds, female candidates find themselves lost in the political shuffle.  In their report, The Status of Black Women in Politics, Higher Heights notes that Black female candidates are less encouraged to run, often raise less money than their male counterparts, and suffer negative media portrayals.  Through programs pushed by these groups, women of color can find encouragement and support that will have a lasting impact on their political pursuits.

Girls and young women of color are embarking on new roads and looking for support from all sides.  Their growth and development in unchartered areas relies on an open and encouraging community.  Elected officials are a part of that encouraging community and can continue with the work they have done in addition to partnering with private entities.  Through these collaborations, these girls and young women of color will attain the necessary skills to become successful members of their hometowns and may impact the nation as a whole.


  1. Ahmad, Farrah Z., How Women of Color Are Driving Entrepreneurship, Center for American Progress, pg. 2, June 10, 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Women in the U.S. Congress in 2014,” Center for American Women in Politics, Eagleton Institute for Politics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
  4. Women of Color in Elective Office in 2014,” Center for American Women in Politics, Eagleton Institute for Politics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

NBCSL Policy Associate serves as a Policy Associate for NBCSL. Ms. Blemur staffs several committees including Health and Human Services and Law, Justice, and Ethics. A recently barred lawyer in the state of Maryland, Ms. Blemur maintains a passion for justice and fair play for the underserved. Prior to joining NBCSL, Ms. Blemur worked with the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary and the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security for the U.S. House of Representatives.

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