To increase the number of girls entering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math careers (STEM), we must undo gender stereotypes at even the youngest of age.
Lately, I’ve had conversations about gender roles and why so few girls decide to major in science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) in school. As an honors math student who enrolled in computer science at university, I look back on my own experience and consider why I never resisted entering STEM.
The answer, I deduced, was that it was because there were no gender biases apparent in my family. I was never singled out for being a girl entering a specific profession; I was just choosing a profession that was right for my skill set. I believe this gave me the confidence to enter STEM, and is how educators should behave when encouraging girls to enter this field.
Growing Up As A Girl Talented In Math
I grew up in a household where whether you were a boy or girl, you were taught how to build and fix things. My parents wanted to make sure that all four of their children knew how to take care of themselves. My father often said to me: “My girls will never have to depend on a man for anything.”
So, it wasn’t surprising that I often played with “boy’s toys” or that I built tree forts. We all had the same type of chores at home. There was no such thing as gender roles when it came to who was doing what.
In high school, I was an honors math student and that was celebrated (for my skill in math, not for being a girl who was good in math). There was no “wow look at what you did, you’re a girl,” it was just simply, “wow look at what you did.”
When I went to university, I decided to take computer science on my way into architecture. It was never questioned. I never received the message that either of those majors were outside my comprehension because I was a girl.
The Rate For Girls in North America Entering STEM
Currently, the rates of girls entering science and technology occupations remain low.
Statistics from the National Girl Project weigh that while women make up half of US college-educated workforce, only 29% are in the sciences and engineering workforce. In Canada, the rates are equally disheartening. An eye-opening study by Stats Canada revealed that girls who receive high marks in mathematics in high school are still less likely to enter a STEM university program than men with lower marks in mathematics. The study revealed there is a gender difference when choosing STEM as a career, no matter what the woman’s or man’s mathematical skill is.
Why Do We Want Girls Entering STEM?
Industry is changing rapidly, with global company averages expected to increase their level of digitization within five years from 33% to 72%. Now, more than ever before, women and men are needed in STEM fields to keep up with the demanding market.
Beyond the changing workforce however, women have natural abilities that allow them to succeed in emerging markets of automation and data exchange. In myCEO.ca’s recent blog How Women Are Set To Lead Industry 4.0, we discussed a survey that examined how women adapt to change well. They lead from consensus and collaboration, skills suited to work in technology.
But, as evidence suggests, women are less likely to enter STEM programs, whether or not they are skilled in mathematics. This means we must begin deconstructing the disinterest among women in this field, and look deep into what stigma or mental blockages there are discouraging women from entering STEM.
What Is Blocking Girls From Entering STEM?
We are fairly familiar with the term, “there is power in numbers.” The same can be said for women who consider what path to choose in university. Women will feel more compelled to choose a program where they can relate to their peers.
A report by the American Association of University Women found that stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities have a direct impact to why there are so few female graduates.
Conversely, a growth mindset was found to be extremely beneficial for school-aged girls. When encountering obstacles in maths and sciences a growth mindset teaches girls that failing is an aspect of learning. This research is found to be extremely beneficial for women in STEM, because they are less likely to lose confidence in themselves and their career choice.
Removing Gender Stereotypes As Early As Childhood
Based on studies, and my own experience growing up, another factor in women not choosing STEM programs is from perceived gender discrepancies between girls and boys playing with toys.
Recently, a study was made showing that when gender cues are removed, such as colour and whether kids know they are being watched, children will cross boundaries and begin playing with toys from either “gender”. Lisa Dinella, one of the researchers of the study, said, “This is good news because we know that every toy teaches a child a different lesson. We want them to be able to learn as much as they can in these early ages, so they have options for the future.”
The importance of gender equality is what will move us forward in the tech industry. In order to see more women rise in STEM we must be fully aware of the biases and stereotypes being shown to children at play and in school.
Until equality becomes the norm, we must take care to provide resources and attentiveness to girls who show interest in STEM, as well as girls who don’t. It’s up to us to let girls become aware of the opportunities that exist in technology and what future awaits for them with a STEM degree. Kids will only show a keen interest in careers made available for them. This is especially true for children of minorities and racial ethnicities.
My dream is live in a society where all girls receive the message they are as smart as boys. That taking math is not odd. That science and learning how to code isn’t breathing rarefied air. That anybody can do it!
Let’s create that society together!
Do you have a young girl or recent graduate interested in pursuing a STEM career? Our mentorship programs and career coaching can help you or or your child gain knowledge, resources and networks that will help accelerate success in this field. Contact us for a free coaching call to learn how we can help you.