It's time to devote more attention and focus on closing the gender gap in STEM, according to this University of Houston expert. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Researchers and scientists can give girls a ‘leg up’.

According to Allison Master, assistant professor of psychological, health and learning sciences at the University of Houston: “Stereotypes that STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is for boys begin in grade school, and by the time they reach high school, many girls have made their decision not to pursue degrees in computer science and engineering because they feel they don’t belong.”

Stats for STEM

The statistics are not encouraging. According to the U.S. Census: “Women made gains – from 8 percent of STEM workers in 1970 to 27 percent in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52 percent of all U.S. workers but 73 percent of all STEM workers.”

“But there are huge disparities between STEM fields in the representation of women,” said Master, whose new paper looks at the emergence of gender gaps among children and adolescents. “Fields like computer science (25 percent of computer jobs are held by women) and engineering (15 percent of engineering jobs are held by women) have some of the lowest percentages of women among STEM fields. On the other hand, women are overrepresented in health fields (74 percent of health-related jobs are held by women).”

Her research specifically looked at computer science and engineering fields. “We wanted to gain a better understanding of why there is such wide variation among STEM fields, and what we can do earlier in the pipeline to encourage more young girls to enter these fields.”

Off to an unfortunate start

“We find that children start to believe that boys are more interested than girls in engineering by age six (first grade), and that children start to believe that boys are more interested than girls in computer science by age eight (third grade). The more that young girls believe those stereotypes, the less interested they are in those fields,” said Master. “If girls believe they won’t belong in fields like computer science and engineering because those are fields ‘for boys,’ then they may miss out on opportunities to try those kinds of activities.”

Master decided to conduct a study on stereotyping gender roles.

“In one study, we told eight and nine year-old children about two computer science activities. When we told them that ‘girls are much less interested than boys’ in one of the activities, we found that girls became much less interested and less willing to try that activity (compared to another activity for which we told them ‘girls and boys are equally interested.’) These stereotypes can shape that choices that young girls make, opening or closing doors to different career pathways,” said Master.

Narrowing the gender gap

How do we turn this around? Mentoring elementary-age students is one way we can increase the percentage of girls who are ushered into STEM fields.

Stem Like a Girl is an initiative that aims to encourage young women to enter the STEM fields. Their website states: “We believe girls need to see strong women in STEM fields to feel supported in pursuing their own science and engineering interests.” An IBM initiative in India has a similar aim. There are lots of terrific organizations working to connect women in STEM as role models for younger girls (e.g., Society of Women Engineers, Black Girls Code, National Girls Collaborative Project, etc.),” Master adds.

Many higher education institutions hold STEM camps for girls exclusively. For instance, University of California-Davis has a program called STEM For Girls – which boasts a student demographic of 79 percent ethnic minorities. The University of Houston Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute holds a summer camp each year called the Middle School Girls Coding Academy. This program is focused on middle school girls (rising 6th–8th graders) who learn Scratch, HTML, Game Design, and Python programming. The Academy runs another camp for high school-aged girls.

The big idea

It’s January – time for New Year’s resolutions. How about becoming a mentor or volunteering to give a presentation or teach a camp for young girls in STEM? Master goes on to say that even men in STEM should mentor young women.

“Role models are important because they help girls believe, ‘People like me can succeed,’ and ‘People like me belong here.’ But the most important thing that all role models can do (women and men, because men can also be very effective role models for girls in STEM) is to be relatable and make their work seem interesting and meaningful,” Master says.

So, does your institution have a program in robotics or coding just for girls? Or if you feel like you could benefit from a mentorship program yourself, you can apply at organizations like Harvard Women In Technology +. Harvard WIT+ helps to connect women early in their STEM careers with seasoned mentors.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Houston innovator bets on humanoid robotics with new startup

back in the founder seat

For his next act, Houston entrepreneur Nicolaus Radford has started — in what he describes as an "anti-stealth" capacity — a new company that hopes to bring humanoid robotics out of science fiction novels and into manufacturing floors.

Radford, who saw his last company, Nauticus Robotics, from founding to IPO, left the company in January. He tells InnovationMap that he started receiving some compelling offers at other robotics companies, but none of them felt like a fit. However, he just couldn't get the idea of advancing humanoid robotics out of his head.

"Humanoids are the holy grail of all of robotics," Radford says. "It's what every science fiction writer's always dreamed about.

"It is the future," he continues. "And now with this generative AI moment of 2022 where these machines look a lot more capable, flexible, reprogrammable — they can reason in real time. That's a huge deal."

Radford says he got a call from his friend, Jerry Pratt, who was the CTO at humanoid robotics company Figure AI. Pratt and Radford both worked in robotics at NASA and each have decades of experience in the tech world. The conversation really sealed the deal for Radford, and the two officially launched Persona AI in a LinkedIn post that Radford says shocked him with how much interest the community had.

Radford says that with all this interest, he wants to open up the company to more co-founders than just himself and Pratt, who's based in Florida.

"We're going to give a significant amount of the company out to the early joiners, more so than is probably typical," Radford says. "And it's because we know it takes a village, and we want to highlight that to everybody."

"We're trying to crowdsource the company," he continues. "We've coined that we're anti stealth."

Specifically, Radford says he's looking at growing the team to about 25 people in the next year, alongside raising early funding. He's looking for people with a diverse tech background with well-rounded experience.

"Robotics and humanoids in particular are just so multidisciplinary," Radford says. "Humanoids are a hundred-thousand-piece puzzle, and you're trying to put this puzzle together."

And for Radford, assembling that puzzle in Houston is of utmost importance. The company is headquartered here, and Radford is currently working with The Ion to set up an office there.

"We're exceptionally excited to put (the company) in Houston," he says. "It would be incredible for the city — there's a lot of industrial manufacturing here and a lot of warehousing. ... I still have this desire to shine a light on Houston's tech scene because I believe it is unsung, underappreciated, and quite capable."

The potential for this technology is huge — Radford estimates it as a $3 trillion market — but the first industry he plans on tackling is automotive, but he also sees promise in the medical, energy, and home industries.

"We think automotive is going to be a first-mover market. There's a lot of publicly announced partnerships between advanced robotics companies and humanoid companies and automotive," he says. "These folks are showing a willingness to put something out in the press that says they're developing a humanoid or piloting a humanoid. That's huge.

With this expressed interest, technology advancement, and large labor shortage, Radford is convinced now is the time for humanoid robotics — and for Persona AI.

"We're at a technology tipping point where it makes sense that these machines can do this, and there's an investment community willing to finance it," Radford says. "I think the first time in all of robotic history we're closer than we've ever been to making this a reality."

Here's how far Houston's robust population of 'super commuters' drive to and from work every day

on the road again

If you’re a workday commuter in the Houston metro area, you may be among the many motorists who’ve cursed the snarled traffic on I-610/West Loop Freeway. This route routinely takes the crown as the most clogged roadway in Texas.

But imagine if you were one of the nearly 80,000 workers in the Houston area who travel at least 90 minutes each way for their jobs. That’s an even more gripe-worthy commuting scenario.

U.S. Census Bureau data gathered by Apartment List shows that as of 2022 in the Houston area, 79,645 workers were tagged as “super commuters.” These workers represent three percent of all commuters in the region.

The Houston area’s 2022 number is down slightly from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when 82,878 workers across the region were super commuters, according to Apartment List.

Igor Popov, chief economist at Apartment List, says 3.7 million American workers spent at least 90 minutes traveling each way for their jobs in 2022. These extreme commutes are becoming more commonplace as suburban populations rise and employers pull back on remote work, he says.

Nationally, the number of super commuters jumped by 593,000 in 2022 compared with 2021, when the pandemic caused the figure to plummet by more than 1.5 million.

“Generally, super commuting is most common for transit users, workers who live on the fringes of the metropolitan area, or those who commute to separate metros entirely,” Popov says.

Super commuting is also common among high-income workers who are willing to travel longer distances for higher-wage jobs, according to Popov.

A recent study by Stanford University and travel data provider INRIX mostly aligns with the Census Bureau data cited by Apartment List.

Since the pandemic, the study says, the share of one-way commutes covering at least 40 miles has gone up in the country’s 10 largest metros, including Houston. In the Houston area, the share of one-way super commutes, which the study defines as those over 75 miles, grew 18 percent from 2019-20 to 2023-24.

Among the 10 areas examined in the study, a typical two-way super commute lasts nearly four hours and 40 minutes.

Experts: What Houston startup founders need to know about conducting a successful IPO

guest column

Home to a wealth of world-changing innovations and a highly skilled labor pool, Houston has attracted startups and digital tech firms for years. Today, the city stands at the forefront of a promising era with seven Houston startups beginning the year strong with more than $380 million in venture funding, and the city ranked among the top emerging startup ecosystems in North America

Houston-based startups planning their exit strategies have good reason to be optimistic about an initial public offering, or IPO, market that is expected to grow in 2024. After a two-year slump in startup investing, some market watchers are predicting that the IPO window may reopen as the economy improves and inflation and interest rates cool.

But good timing requires good readiness. The window of opportunity for preparation now appears to be a microwindow. As any company that went public at the peak of the dot-com or post-COVID booms can attest, preparation is essential to quickly take action when the time is right. Hitting that microwindow will require that IPO-bound Houston companies be strategic about their IPO readiness planning. A lack of planning can result in an IPO experience that is not well planned, and potentially a missed opportunity altogether.

It’s unclear when the next IPO window will open, or for how long the window will remain open, but it could happen quicker than expected. This unpredictability suggests that Houston startups seeking to go public should start their legal, financial, and regulatory planning now. The important period for many companies planning an IPO begins six to 18 months prior to listing and lasts until the six months post-IPO.

Readying an IPO

We gained several insights from our discussions with CEOs and CFOs who have effectively navigated IPOs recently to provide insights for companies contemplating going public when the next microwindow opens. A company’s comprehensive readiness plan can be key to performing well in the market, whether it is up or down. Summarized below are common key areas that challenged many C-Suite executives in being a public company and, in hindsight, areas they wished they had addressed earlier in the process.

  1. Internal forecasting. Internal forecasting is paramount. In fact, it’s one of the primary takeaways cited in our conversations with the C-suite execs who went through the IPO process. Houston companies on an IPO track should be prepared to provide accurate forecasting and timely fulfillment of projections. Missing projections can result in significant regulatory repercussions.
  1. Key performance indicators and non-GAAPmeasures. Take reasonable steps towards performing a comprehensive benchmarking study to determine relevant KPIs and non-GAAP measures and metrics to report upon; be ready with the frameworks in place to report upon during quarterly and annual reporting.
  1. Growth story. The ability to communicate the company’s growth story can be essential to an effective IPO. Company leaders should be able to clearly convey topics such as the company’s growth, vision and strategy, its plans for improving performance metrics, the market opportunity, its competitive edge, and how its product or services will meet market demand. Meetings with analysts and other market influencers are also necessary to gain investor support. The executives we talked to said that when they did not invest time in this awareness-building step, they often found themselves rushing to get the word out as the offering date closed in.
  1. Finance infrastructure and human capital. Understand the infrastructure and operating model required to operate as a public company, along with the human capital necessary to sustain operations. Identifying the necessary skillsets and bandwidth within the team supports a smoother IPO process. Collaborating with experienced, independent advisors is also vital. These advisors assist in organizing the process, outlining SEC reporting requirements, updating SEC-compliant financial reporting, preparing Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) and pro forma financial information, and offering guidance throughout the pre-IPO preparation.
  1. Governance. IPO-bound companies need to anticipate new corporate governance requirements as a publicly traded entity, particularly in terms of their board of directors. Proper governance and board oversight can be essential to support the quality of financial statements produced by management. Executives told us that recruiting the right board members is often a significant pre-IPO challenge. Identifying these members early is crucial, as the right resources may not be available later.

Closing thoughts

If you are among those companies looking to go public in the near future, now is the time to get your house in order. Companies are often surprised to discover how much preparation it truly takes to operate as a public company. In fact, we typically recommend starting the preparation journey 18 to 24 months before the anticipated public listing date. Simply stated, if you wait until the IPO window opens before gearing up, you likely will be gearing up for the next window.

Deloitte’s complimentary IPO

SelfAssess tool can help you gauge your ability to go public with a tailored assessment. The tool provides you with useful insights and identifies potential areas for improvement based on the feedback you provide.

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Will Braeutigam is the U.S. capital markets transactions leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Laura Evans is audit and assurance partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP.