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Helping Girls Succeed in STEM

STEM students work on a group project together.

Shortly after the first image of a black hole wowed the world in April 2019, news began to circulate. One story was about a 29-year-old named Dr. Katie Bouman. She was eventually identified as the scientist who developed the algorithm with a team of researchers to assemble the historic photo.

Women have been making groundbreaking discoveries like Dr. Bouman’s in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for years, but women and girls in STEM remain underrepresented by a wide margin. For example, women earn more than half of all bachelor’s degrees in biological science, but earn less than 18% of the bachelor’s awarded in computer science and only 19% in engineering.

What can be done about this disparity between the numbers of boys and girls in STEM-related fields of study and careers? As the number of STEM jobs increases and technology continues to alter industries, communications and society, several questions remain.

How can we close the gender gap, interest school-age girls to pursue STEM studies, and empower young women to seek STEM careers? While there’s no single answer, there is one thing that teachers and educators can do. They can encourage girls to explore STEM subjects in school, which may ultimately lead to potential STEM careers.

This article will dive deeper into the statistics about girls in STEM, provide resources for educators to motivate female students to study STEM subjects, and offer tips and advice on how to keep girls interested and engaged.

Gender Inequality Statistics in STEM

One of the main reasons for gender disparities in STEM subjects has to do with a long-held stereotype. It was thought that boys were “better” at math and science, while girls were encouraged to pursue literature or the arts. As a result, women today only hold 25% of all STEM jobs in the U.S. White males held 49% of all science and engineering jobs in 2015, according to a report published by the National Science Foundation.

The following resources further illustrate how women and girls in STEM are underrepresented from grade school through to the professional ranks. The following sites further explain the gender gap statistics for girls in STEM.

  • The National Girls Collaborative Project provides statistics, information, and other resources about K-12 education, higher education, and workforce data.

  • The United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization reports that less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. Their website offers a plethora of information about women who work in the scientific field.

  • The American Association of University Women published their findings from an in-depth study that identifies social and environmental barriers to women interested in pursuing STEM studies.

  • This article in The Atlantic explores “a strange paradox” reported in a new study: women in countries that have more gender equality, such as Finland and Norway, have fewer women in STEM fields than in countries where women experience less equality, such as in Algeria and the United Arab Emirates.

Resources for Educators

The engineering workforce is expected to grow by 8.3% through 2026, adding an estimated 126,000 positions, according to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Preparation of girls and women for engineering and other STEM-related jobs starts with early STEM-education, even as early as preschool.

Teachers and other educators have a unique opportunity to introduce STEM subjects and motivate girls to become engaged in STEM-related learning. Here are links to some websites where educators can find resources.

  • The Institute of Education Sciences published a guide that offers educators specific recommendations for classroom activities to encourage girls in STEM.

  • ThinkSTEAM is a website devoted to inspiring and motivating girls in STEM subjects as well as the arts, “thus enhancing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communications skills.”

  • This Education Week article discusses how educators speak to girls about STEM subjects and how that influences their level of interest.

  • Techbridge Girls’ is an organization that designs and creates classroom STEM programs catered toward “K-12 girls from low-income, under-resourced communities.” It has several chapters across the U.S. with resources and training available for educators.

  • The International Society for Technology in Education found that getting girls involved early is key to engaging them in later STEM education and careers. The Society publishes a website with several resources for educators.

Tips and Advice

Educators are key to getting girls and young women more involved in STEM subjects, but parents, caregivers, and mentors also have a role to play. The following resources explain why it’s important for girls to become involved, and offers tips and advice on doing so.

  • Four female engineering students weigh-in on how to encourage young women and girls to enter STEM fields in this Forbes article.

  • Technology attorney and STEAM “evangelist” Emily Avant gave this TEDx Talk about “Encouraging Math-Hating Girls and Women to Become Tech Leaders.”

  • Million Women Mentors works to encourage girls in STEM fields by matching mentors to a nationwide network of educational institutions.

  • PBS Parents’ SciGirls program has a website devoted to advice for parents interested in getting their daughters excited about STEM.

  • This article in Today’s Parent discusses how parents can engage girls in STEM subjects and keep them interested.

Conclusion

Women like Dr. Bouman are becoming more prevalent in the workforce due to increases in education and awareness of STEM. Educators will continue to be key in getting girls and young women involved in STEM.

Sources

CBS News

Economic Times

Forbes

Hechinger Report

National Girls Collaborative Project

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