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America's economic future hinges on this overlooked educational skill

Key Points
  • STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) educational initiatives will not create the next generations of leaders that can maintain America's global edge.
  • Entrepreneurs create more than twice the number of jobs as large legacy companies, according to a 2016 EY study.
  • Business icons including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey and Oprah Winfrey used the spirit of entrepreneurship to drive innovation.
Despite the sharp rise of women who now hold MBAs and STEM degrees, only 20% of women enjoy leadership positions in industry. Worse, the World Economic Forum predicts another 202 years before women begin to earn the same pay as men.
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If we continue the STEM conversation as it stands, the U.S. is staring down a bleak future. Well intended as they are, the educational initiatives currently in place meant to equip our kids today and our country tomorrow with the ability to compete and win globally simply can't get us there.

The problem is that our students are receiving little if any support to guide that initial germ of an idea and help it flourish into a real business. School curricula have generally fallen short with respect to skills-based business learning and preparing students to lead. That's why it's time — from our classrooms to our boardrooms — to replace STEM with STEEM.

STEEM (science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, and mathematics) is the academic ecosystem that will prepare the minds and nurture the talent, not just as worker bees but as thinkers and creators and pioneers.

Think of today's business leaders who imagined big solutions to problems: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey and Oprah Winfrey. Their spirit was key to their entrepreneurship. It's entrepreneurship that drives innovation, jobs and our competitive edge. What's getting lost in policy discussions, academic curriculum and investments is how successful businesses come to be in the first place.

Entrepreneurship drives jobs. According to a 2016 EY study, entrepreneurs were on track to create more than twice the number of jobs as large legacy companies. Entrepreneurs are the trailblazers of brand-new products and services, and the disruptors of established industry by finding ways to deliver cheaper, faster, more reliably, and with a more elegant design.

In our era of hyper-innovation, complacency and stagnation equal death. It's China's promotion of entrepreneurial initiative that's nipping at the heels of Silicon Valley while creating millions of jobs. If we don't cultivate and motivate this spirit within our own citizenry, we are guaranteed to lose our global edge and threaten our future economic development.

STEM risks trapping women as followers. Research from New York University Stern School of Business shows that traditional labor markets can reinforce existing biases. Entrepreneurship, however, provides highly talented workers, including women, the opportunity to overcome these biases.

Despite the sharp rise of women who now hold MBAs and STEM degrees, only 20% of women enjoy leadership positions in industry. Worse, the World Economic Forum predicts another 202 years before women begin to earn the same pay as men.

The U.S. has an enormous opportunity to take the lead on reversing this trend and promote greater economic participation for women by recognizing them as national assets to encourage and train in entrepreneurship at the earliest possible age.

If we don't cultivate and motivate this [entrepreneurial] spirit within our own citizenry, we are guaranteed to lose our global edge and threaten our future economic development.

A report released by nonprofit Girls With Impact revealed that once women join college venture competitions, they tend to win. Although women comprised just 22% of participants, they represented a far higher proportion of winning teams. In fact, 51% of the ranking teams — those in first, second or third place — had a woman founder and 32% had a woman CEO.

Digitally-delivered entrepreneurship training delivered to girls ages 14 to 18 is proving successful at addressing the gender confidence gap on, with 81% of girls expressing confidence to be a leader compared to 47% pre-program.

The gig economy demands new work skills. An entrepreneurial mindset is also critical to succeeding in the growing gig economy, as the number of self-employed Americans is expected to exceed 40 million by 2020.

As parents and policy leaders, we can't expect our students to maneuver in a world where a steady paycheck is no longer the norm. In order to compete and succeed in the future of work, the next generation must be groomed now to be nimble, adaptable, and flexible — and with cross-functional team engagement.

Entrepreneurial thinking and corporate America

Publicly-traded companies are quickly becoming an endangered species in the U.S. Between 1996 and 2016, our stock exchanges lost half of their domestic listings. In the rush to avoid extinction from entrepreneurial competition in Silicon Valley, China, or elsewhere, U.S. companies have in recent years embraced innovation labs and chief innovation officers.

These hubs or labs are dedicated to encouraging an entrepreneurial mind-set. They identify problems and develop innovative solutions. Corporations across industries, from Intel through Pfizer, have dedicated venture teams and initiatives to identify and back entrepreneurs. EY's innovation lab, for example, has spawned new digital tax solutions that have turned into stand-alone businesses led by women.

The use of STEM is incomplete and outdated. The world is moving fast and we'll either innovate or we'll die. The STEM skills are critical to our workforce and growth, but equally important – if not more so – is entrepreneurship. Let's move forward as a country to change the educational vocabulary from STEM to STEEM and ensure America is setting the pace for global innovation.

—By Jennifer Openshaw, CEO of Girls With Impact, a 501c3 non-profit and the nation's only live, online entrepreneurship program for teenage girls; and Professor Deepak Hegde, Founding Director, Endless Frontier Labs at New York University's Stern School of Business.

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @ Work: People + Machines Summit in San Francisco on November 4. Leaders from Dropbox, Sas, McKinsey and more will teach us how to balance the needs of today with the possibilities of tomorrow, and the winning strategies to compete.

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Key Points
  • Three percent of women ages 65 and up are involved in early stage entrepreneurship, up from 2.3% in 2016, and outpacing business formation among the general population.
  • Only 15.5% of women in the 65-and-over age group are still in the workforce.
  • With roughly 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, an encore career as a business owner is a way for women to maintain their energy, interest and creativity rather than ease into retirement.