There’s a common misconception that girls aren’t as interested (or as talented) in science and math as boys are—and sadly, this misconception affects the number of women working in STEM careers. Only 28% of workers in science and engineering in the US are women. This difference is even larger in the sciences that require a lot of math: in physical sciences, computer science and engineering, only 25–30% of junior workers and 7–15% of senior workers are female.
This all starts in school. While girls perform just as well as boys, and often better, in mathematics and science in K–12 (with the exception of computer science and engineering), they are less likely to study science at college.
The only science field where women receive half of the degrees is biological sciences. Women are underrepresented in computer sciences (18%), engineering (20%), physical sciences (39%), and mathematics (43%). The problem is even greater among minority women, who make up only 12.6% of those who have degrees in science and engineering.
Why is this important?
STEM careers, and especially those in engineering, math, and technology, are high-value jobs that are becoming more and more sought-after. Not only should women have the same opportunities to work in well-paid jobs, but the world also needs as many people as possible interested in these subjects in order to meet employment demands.
Many women have done outstanding things in STEM throughout history. For example, Nettie Stevens (1861–1912) discovered the X and Y chromosomes, Lisa Meitner (1878–1968) helped discover nuclear fission (the basis of nuclear power) together with Otto Hahn, and Katherine Johnson (1918–present) was responsible for calculations that were crucial to sending the first American (Alan Shepard) into space. And that’s just to mention a few!
So how do you encourage girls to keep studying STEM subjects?
It all starts in the classroom. A recent study of young European women found that more than half (57%) said they would’ve been more likely to pursue a STEM career if their teacher had encouraged them. So here are three simple things you can do to encourage your students…
- Make an effort to involve girls in the classroom
Demonstrate that you believe in your students by making an extra effort to address the girls in your class when asking questions, or by inviting them to extra-curricular activities that are STEM-related. The belief that girls aren’t as good as boys at STEM subjects still exists, even though it’s just not true.
By involving girls in the classroom, you show them that they are just as talented as the boys and that you believe in them. This will give your students the confidence to consider all sorts of careers—rather than questioning whether they are clever enough!
2. Make science class more creative
Many girls decide to go into arts and humanities because they see those careers as more creative. However, research indicates that young people in STEM careers are actually more likely to find their jobs creative than those in arts and humanities!
STEM jobs can be really creative, so it’s important to show that in the classroom. Take the opportunity to combine arts and science by involving your class in creative projects, such as designing their own playgrounds, creating shadow puppets, or producing their own guidebook to the night sky!
3. Expose girls to STEM careers
An important part of making a decision on what to study or what career to pursue is simply knowing what careers are actually available. So start by showing your students just how many different careers there are out there—as we wrote in a recent blog post, there are new STEM opportunities being created all the time.
It’s also important to expose girls to women who work in STEM—that way, they are more likely to be able to see themselves in the same role. This was something we took very seriously when developing Twig Science. We made sure that students were exposed to a wide range of different STEM careers, such as conservationists, earthquake engineers, and hydrologists—some of these are roles that students get to try out during investigations, and others are roles they learn about through interviews and case studies with real STEM workers.
So there you go—three easy steps toward encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers. Never underestimate the difference an encouraging teacher and a fun science class can make!