Eduporium Weekly | What We Can Do to Get Girls Into STEM

  • Posted on: July 8, 2017 - 7:06am
  • By: alarmand

It’s incredibly discouraging, but, for one reason or another, women have not always had the same opportunities when it comes to STEM careers as men have. Some experts try to chalk it up to claiming that the better candidate gets the job, but this trend has become too much of an epidemic to ignore. To get past it and provide girls with the opportunities they deserve, educators have to get them interested from the onset. Whether it’s during the school day, after school, or during the summer, a sustainable future for girls in STEM needs to start while they’re young.


How to Get More Girls Into STEM and Why It’s Important


It’s no secret that the most lucrative jobs available today are all moving towards technology. Software engineer roles alone are expected to grow between anywhere from 20 to 30 percent in the next 10 years. Women, however, remain noticeably absent from holding these prominent roles and their lack of presence within the tech industry is noticeable. Perhaps this is due to the way they are educated or just because they do not want these roles. The more likely reason for this, however, is that they are not always given the same opportunities during their education to develop the skills that are needed to succeed in these high-performance, high-demand industries.

Of all Computer Science majors in U.S. colleges, women account for just 18 percent. And, just 19 percent of high school females have taken an AP Computer Science test. Why, though, when it’s so obvious that the future lies in STEM and technology, has this not changed? Again, the best way to explain it is that they are driven away from STEM fields very early on in their lives. They aren’t always given the same opportunities to take STEM classes and partake in fewer apprenticeships than their male counterparts do. Many tech creators have also taken note of this disparity and more and more EdTech products are being designed to appeal to girls at a young age. Roominate, for example, is a 21st century take on the dollhouse, which incorporates engineering, circuitry, and design thinking into construction and appeals to young girls in an effort to lay the groundwork for future STEM opportunities.

It’s great that innovative companies who have the platform to do so are publicly advocating for girls in STEM. More needs to be done, however, so that every child is able to experience the hands-on benefits of a STEM education. Closing the gender gap, as evidenced by recent trends, needs to start early and have a real presence in schools. Women will not be given the opportunity to hold top tech careers if they do not have the STEM skills to get the job done. These STEM skills can and should be developed at a young age. Even setting aside a couple of hours per week for coding challenges and design activities can have a legitimate impact on girls’ futures. One thing is for sure: girls need the opportunities to become truly Future Ready.


Coding Girls Could Change the World


We hit you with some fairly poignant stats in the first section of the post and get ready because here come some more. Just 24 percent of current technology jobs are held by women. And, there are a lot of tech jobs. Like, a lot a lot. Research also shows that approximately 74 percent of middle-school girls express a genuine interest in STEM, according to ISTE, but, by the time they get to college, just 0.3 percent of them actually pursue Computer Science as a major. It is estimated that there will be something like 1.4 million new Computer Science jobs available by the year 2020, but that only about three percent of them will be filled by women. That’s a number that just doesn’t make sense.

Reshma Saujani, who spoke at ISTE 2017 and founded Girls Who Code, said that every solution we want to find in the next 100 years will involve technology. Girls just need to be given the opportunity for entry and the numbers discussed above will adjust accordingly. Girls Who Code is currently comprised of over 40,000 females who have a legitimate interest in coding - one that could lead to a lucrative career down the line. They help girls learn the skills they need to know in order to excel in the 21st century, including coding, robotics, website development, and app construction. It’s their belief that once girls are introduced to Computer Science they will truly begin to understand how influential it is and how important it is to the modern world.

Not many young girls grow up dreaming of becoming a computer scientist, but the fact is that that’s where the jobs (and the money) are and where they will continue to be. So, it’s up to educators to plant the seed and, at the very least, expose girls to this side of STEM. Saujani believes that curriculum designers should take the time to truly consider what appeals to a 13-year-old girl as opposed to a male counterpart and make every effort to include something that will genuinely interest them in every school’s curriculum. Now, we went to ISTE 2017 and saw Saujani speak and we agree with the fact that educators need to help create responsive programs for girls of all ages. Not only does that 0.3 percent figure need to go up exponentially, but girls need to be set up to enjoy success in their years after they complete their education.


How Teachers Can Get Girls to Think STEM


It remains the fact that women are underrepresented in STEM professions around the world. Many initiatives have been launched to try to promote equality in the workforce, but the problem will not be solved simply if companies hire more women. They need qualified women; and interested women. To get to this point, we need a fairly significant culture shift to a society that empowers girls and encourages them to pursue these challenges. This empowerment needs to begin long before girls even start looking for jobs - like while they’re in elementary or middle school. Fortunately, there are some simple steps schools and teachers can take to set girls up for STEM success.

Getting girls genuinely interested in STEM starts - unsurprisingly - with building a strong foundation. One way to begin is for school leaders to create an environment that promotes innovation, development, and equality. Creating this kind of environment starts at the top with the principal establishing leadership and transferring his or her vision to each one of the school’s teachers. Once a secure foundation is created, educators must also consider the unconscious bias that circulates surrounding girls in STEM and work to remove it from their lessons. Girls sometimes need to see examples of what women can do and of strong women who became historical figures in order to realize that they, too, can make an impact in today’s world. If all of the influential scientists they study are men, they begin to develop the unconscious perception that women cannot succeed in these demanding industries - something teachers can control and eliminate.

When presenting STEM to girls, it must be shown as an inclusive industry with interesting opportunities for everyone. Teachers should show girls that STEM is everywhere, which makes it accessible to every single student. STEM is where the best future opportunities lie and students should realize that our digital world is connected by technology and somebody needs to create, maintain, and develop that technology. Schools could also work to create mentor programs so girls can have somebody to talk to about the relevance of STEM education - someone who’s been in their shoes and created a successful STEM career for themselves. However schools and teachers decide to empower girls and steer them towards STEM, the most important thing is they have to start today. In a year or two, it could be too late.


Narrowing the Gender Gap through STEM Education


Only 11 percent of girls between the ages of 13-17 are considering a career in the STEM fields, according to Education Dive. Conversely, about 36 percent of boys in the same age range have already decided to chase down a lucrative STEM career. So, why the huge disparity in STEM interest? We’ve already talked about some of the reasons why this might be, including bias, lack of interest, and lack of guidance, but are there other reasons that it’s happening? Another possibility that’s been raised is the cost of obtaining a STEM degree. We’re not trying to start a debate, but some experts have said that girls get discouraged from pursuing STEM because they’re afraid they won’t be able to pay back student loans because they’re afraid of not making as much as their male counterparts once they enter the workforce.

In the same survey, 54 percent of boys said they would need to polish their tech skills in order to prepare for their dream jobs. To the same question, only 27 percent of girls believed tech skills would be relevant to what they planned on doing after school. It should also be noted that girls tend to place more value on cultivating relationships in the working world than boys do, putting a sense of collaboration ahead of their male counterparts. This is not to say that boys will get further on their tech skills alone, but could it be a hint that girls might need more than tech skills to make it in our 21st century economy? Obviously, we hope this isn’t the case, but, with the emergence of certain trends, we have to be careful of not leaving girls behind in the STEM race.

Many prominent companies have implemented programs to help combat the STEM shortage by targeting students, especially girls, while they are young. Companies like Microsoft and The Armed Forces offer workshops for teens to work with technology and build STEM skills during the summer and while they’re away from school. By targeting underrepresented groups, like girls, these companies are often able to get educational institutions to respond by placing a greater emphasis on introducing girls to STEM in their schools. It all comes back to reaching girls as early as possible and providing them with a wide range of STEM opportunities in the classroom. They need to know there’s a future for them in STEM before they hit that pivotal time frame between 13-17 years old. The earlier schools get girls engaged, the more likely they will be to develop and interest in the STEM fields.


How to Help Girls Thrive in STEM Today


We’re past the prejudicial point in time in which girls were considered to be inferior to men in terms of intelligence and resolve. At least we claim to be. If a girl goes against the odds and is able to complete a 4-year STEM degree, that’s likely not the end of her challenges. She would then have to find a job in industries that are dominated by men while hopefully avoiding any gender stereotyping in the process. As we know, males still outnumber females in STEM courses and majors in colleges though that gap is getting narrower. There are still plenty of accusations of unfriendly workplaces, lower salaries, and delayed promotions for women in STEM professions, however, but these fields are in real need of more workers, so elementary and middle school teachers need to do whatever possible to prepare girls for working in STEM.

In order for girls to thrive in STEM roles later on in life, they need to start preparing early. This includes both academic and social preparation as both intelligence and communication skills are needed in just about every contemporary role. The best way to increase girls’ interest in hands-on STEM work is by continually giving them the opportunity to partake in it. This allows them to get acclimated while learning the basics and an early start gives them the time to make up any lagging technical skills before entering college or the workforce. For this reason, teachers need to provide explicit encouragement for girls to pursue math and science no later than middle school.

Another way to pique female interest in STEM is by relating STEM professions to the things that girls enjoy. If they like animals, for example, there are bound to be brand new jobs created that require engineering and coding skills in order to use technology to help animals. If they’re afraid of not being respected in future STEM fields or feel they would not be given the opportunity to earn as much money as men, teachers can also remind girls that they shouldn’t let history interfere with their dreams and that they have the potential to change it themselves. Schools can even bring in women who have held STEM roles as guest speakers to inspire students and show them how problem solving is an authentic real-world skill. However you decide to go about it, all educators should be encouraging their female students to pursue and enjoy STEM - their futures could very well be decided by it.


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