Michelle Obama Has An Important Message For Silicon Valley

"You guys are smarter than that. You're better than that, let's figure it out."

While her husband was dining with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal, Michelle Obama was busy making waves in Silicon Valley and advocating for more women in tech.

The former First Lady was a speaker at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 6, and her message to the mostly-male audience was loud and clear. In an hour-long discussion with Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA who now leads social and environmental initiatives for Apple, Mrs. Obama stressed the need for women in technology.

Though media was barred from the event, CNN spoke to a developer present for Mrs. Obama's speech. According to the source, she told the crowd, "Girls walk away from tech and science. ... There's something about how this subject is being taught. You guys are smarter than that. You're better than that, let's figure it out."

And statistics back her up. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, at the K-12 level female students' achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers. However, after college, women make up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. That statistic is even lower for minority women.

Similarly, a 2011 White House report found women earn about 41 percent of PhD's in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but make up only 28 percent of tenure-track faculty in those fields, which is evidence of a high dropout rate.


Throughout her tenure as First Lady, Mrs. Obama and the Obama administration took a special interest in getting girls and young women interested in STEM. 

"If we're going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone," Mrs. Obama said in 2011. "We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

She echoed the same sentiment on Tuesday, telling the audience they "have to want to" make more room for women in tech. "And that's where I look to the fellas in the room and say, 'Are you ready? Are you really ready to have women at the table?' Then make room."

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who introduced Mrs. Obama to the crowd, thanked her for her empowering words.

And though the audience was made up mostly of Apple developers who had paid to attend the WWDC, CNN reports the front row seats were occupied by enthralled high school students, the majority of whom were girls. Here's hoping they'll be inspired to enter STEM fields — and be welcomed with open arms. 


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.