Men outnumber women in most STEM careers. For example, statistics from the National Science Foundation show that women make up only 15% of the workforce in engineering and 25% in computer and mathematical sciences. However, that doesn’t mean it’s hard for women to
get jobs in those fields. In fact, many companies want to hire and keep qualified women for STEM jobs. As I discussed here, studies have
shown that companies with women in leadership roles demonstrate improved organizational and financial performance. So, the question is how to get girls interested in STEM careers to begin with?
Studies show that girls tend to lose interest in science and math during middle school, and they don’t typically rebound from there. Instead of focusing on the challenges for women to even enter into STEM fields, it’s better to take a solution-oriented approach. We must work together as educators, parents and mentors to encourage girls to pursue their STEM interests.
The following are a few ways to get girls attention and keep them interested in science & technology:
Expose to STEM early & often
Women of all ages will benefit from seeing how science, technology, engineering, and math fit in to what they are currently doing or want to do later on. A teacher could develop educational apps, a marketer who learns SEO (search engine optimization) can help get advertising out in front of the right audience better than their competition, and a small business owner who can build their own website can have a huge impact on their bottom line! No matter what your chosen path, having a foundation in core STEM concepts can really take your career to the next level!
Highlight STEM elements in activities they are already interested in
If a girl is naturally interested in learning, asking questions, building things or figuring out how things work then this is a good indicator that they have interests in STEM whether they realize it or not. Take whatever hobby or interest they have and you will undoubtedly find some sort of STEM component to it. For instance, with older girls who are in to fashion, check out how designer Rebecca Minkoff uses technology to make her fashion stores stand out.
For younger girls, it’s usually just about doing something FUN! This site focuses a lot on STEM activities and organizations, along with amazing STEM learning toys, such as a few of my daughter’s favorites: Osmo, Kiwi Crate, and Lego!
Correct negative perceptions and stereotypes
The outdated stereotype that girls are not as good as boys in math and science can have negative consequences. Research shows that when girls perceive that they will not perform as well on a test as boys, then the girls will likely under perform. However, if they are told that boys and girls will do equally well, there is no difference in performance observed between genders.
In order to encourage more girls to pursue their STEM interests confidently and passionately, then we cannot – as a culture – continue to subtly or unconsciously discourage girls with this type of stereotyping.
Encourage participation in special programs
A quick online search will show you that there are a TON of extra-curricular activities for kids to get in involved in STEM!
My daughter is about to start Destination Imagination. D.I. is a fun, student-driven activity that fosters creativity, curiosity, and courage along with team-and-problem-solving skills through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning. At the K-2nd grade level, it’s meant to be more fun and learning to work on a team; however, in grades 3-12 they get to compete up to a Global scale!
In our area we also have the American Robotics Academy, which we may try out next Spring. This is a franchise but I’m sure you can find something similar in your area!
Lead by example!
Role models are instrumental in getting girls in to science and technical fields. If you are already a female STEM professional then you can speak on a panel about women in technology, help place an intern, or write and share articles. Become a mentor to a local student. The National Girls Collaborative Project has a fantastic list of organizations with mentoring programs in place to pair you up with a student in your area.
Even if you are not a STEM professional, girls need to see strong women tackling gender stereotypes. Moms: let your daughters see you tackling projects around the house that a man would “usually” do. Whether it’s installing a ceiling fan, wiring an electrical outlet, or building their little brother a Monster Truck play arena like my daughter and I recently did, there are a ton of ways women can empower little girls to achieve whatever goals they may have!
Focus on sharing stories of successful women in STEM
Women have been contributing to the evolution of science & technology for well over 100 years now. Show girls inspiring movies such as “Hidden Figures,” the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program or check out these profiles of 5 powerful women currently breaking down the glass ceiling in technology and 30 other inspiring women to watch in technology. If we showcase women that girls can personally identify with, they will feel more inspired to pursue their own STEM careers.
Educate girls on the vast number of learning resources available to them
We are so lucky to live in a time when nearly everything we want to know is available at our fingertips! There is a huge amount of resources online for girls who are interested in learning more about STEM careers. Whether it’s visiting websites of different organizations promoting women in STEM or online learning sites like Khan Academy, where
you can literally learn just about anything for free. Udacity, Codecademy, and Lynda.com are also great learning platforms offering both free and paid courses in business and technology skills. Not only will these sites appease anyone’s curiosity but starting technical education early on will give girls a leg up in a highly competitive field! Here are 47 of the best places to learn to code for FREE!
Bottom line, we have to work together to show girls that the opportunities to learn and succeed are endless if they are really passionate about a career in STEM!
Comment below, what are some other way we can get girls excited about STEM?