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Let’s Keep Girls Interested in STEM

Consider some stats from a recent Microsoft survey:

72% of the girls polled said it was important for them to have jobs that directly helped the world. That’s a lovely sentiment! Unfortunately, only 37% considered STEM careers as being creative or making the world better. This is troubling for a lot of reasons. We need girls in STEM!

“We’re going to have more than a million jobs created in STEM fields over the next decade, and the only way we’re going to fill those jobs with the best and brightest is to not leave a gender behind.”

– Chelsea Clinton

Are Girls Steered Away from STEM Subconsciously?

Educators all say the same things about girls interested in STEM: There just are not enough. Or, if they are interested, they are subconsciously (or overtly) made to feel that they are not suited for the hobbies or jobs that involve STEM. 50% of girls surveyed saw themselves as one of the hardest workers in their STEM courses. Disturbingly, only 37% of those same hard workers saw themselves as one of the smartest pupils.

Jobs in robotics, AR, AI, coding, etc. are going to dominate the future landscape but our girls aren’t ready. Robotic and Coding Camps for kids are offered to boys and girls. Science, math and tech camps for kids are often dominated by males. Above all, STEM Camps do not appear to catch the attention of girls’ parents.

But, why? What is it about STEM that attracts boys more than girls?
Is it all just a construct built by society? Are men actually just better at engineering? Do their brains simply process math better? Are they more logical; less emotional? This 1967 Cosmo magazine article entitled “The Computer Girls” doesn’t agree.

The Simple answer is NO. There is very little evidence that men are better at these types of jobs. So why the gender gap? It may be start in the classroom. Research shows at an early age, girls tend to defer to boys in class, even when they know as much. Their body language is hesitant. When they do raise their hands, it’s often timidly. Girls’ tend to be more discouraged when making mistakes or earning a poor grade compared to boys when they similarly struggle.  By their teens, girls may lack confidence to continue in math and science. We can’t let that happen.

Influential Women in STEM

Although we tend to think of engineering, science, math and technology as male fields, there have been some hugely influential women in these fields over the years.  To name a few:

Grace Murray Hopper – “Queen of Code” who helped design one of the world’s earliest computers. Hour of Code is planned every year in December to recognize her birthday.

Mae. C. Jemison – First African American woman in space

Elizabeth Blackwell – First female M.D. in the America

Dr. Antonia Novello – Pioneering medical researcher and former Surgeon General of the United States

Looking back in history, we see that this bias toward males as STEM-savvy has not always existed as it does now. In 1985, 37% of U.S. college computer science grads were female. Today, that number is closer to 17%.  In addition,

In short, steering girls away from STEM is a relatively new phenomenon and it is troubling. We simply can’t fill the jobs and acquire the talent that we need to move forward into the next decade. There will be shortages of qualified employees in science and tech fields. And we need both women and men to be in the conversation, designing future solutions. The numbers simply don’t add up and keeping girls from these careers will hurt everyone – not just women.

So, what can we do?

5 ways to get girls into STEM:

1.       Start talking to your daughter about what it means to be an intelligent woman.  Here is a quick conversation starter – have her take the “Do you hide your smarts (especially around guys)?” quiz and talk to her about the results.

2.      Encourage your daughter to take a STEM camp with a friend in the summer. Or seek out a STEM Code Camps for Girls where providers create a supportive environment for girls to explore interests, collaborate, and celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities to help prepare them for the next challenge.

3.       Clubs, friends and networking are important, too. Girls need to be surrounded by other girls with similar interests and shown that being a girl in STEM is cool. Start an all-girls STEM or Entrepreneur Club.

4.       Role models are huge for all kids in all regards, but girls don’t always have as many inspirational female figures in their lives regarding STEM. Reach out to your local network of friends or conduct a quick search online to find great role models to share with your daughter.

5.       Talk about goals often. Setting goals and accomplishing them is a confidence builder and the unfortunate truth is that girls’ confidence in themselves regarding science and math is generally low.

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