There's a stark difference between the number of men and women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). In fact, while women make up nearly half the workforce, only about a quarter of them hold STEM jobs. The interesting thing is that at very young ages, girls show as much interest in math and science as boys do, but somewhere down the road, they lose it – much fewer women are leaving university with a STEM degree. Lack of female role models, gender stereotypes, and less exposure to STEM could all be reasons for the major disparity, but one thing is for sure – if the U.S. wants to continue progressing in the right direction, we've got to give our girls an opportunity to be a part of it. Here are 5 ways to do it:
Young girls don't yet have that preconception of where they fit in the world, but because of the toys they are given, the activities they are placed in, and the colors of their lunchboxes, they begin to believe that they don't belong in certain areas, namely STEM. While boys are given Duplo and Lego, which develop spacial logic and analytical skills, girls are given Barbies and Easy-Bake Ovens. Let's end this divide by starting at the beginning, giving girls the same opportunities to learn and succeed as boys. Give girls games and toys that involve problem-solving and collaboration, and provide an environment where they know it's ok to fail because they can just try again.
Give Them Proper Role Models
When we flip through a science textbook, we see pictures of Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and if we're lucky we'll get a Marie Curie in there. We need to show girls that female scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are out there, despite what history tells us. A great way to teach, not just the girls but all your students, about women in STEM is to assign a renowned female STEMist to each student and have them do a research project on her, presenting it to the class so that everyone can learn about the great things women are doing for STEM. If the opportunity to invite a female guest speaker from any of the fields becomes available, grab at it. And a mentor program is a surefire way to give girls a personal hands-on experience within their desired fields.
Take Them on STEM Related Field Trips
Exposure is key when it comes to inspiration, and what better way to expose girls to STEM than placing them right in the thick of it. A field trip to a lab, science museum, or research facility shows them the environment, the people, and the work they are doing. It gives them a clear picture of what a STEM job could look like and allows them to imagine themselves in that picture. Bonus points if the tour guide is a woman.
Create Special Programs
As girls grow and start to think about what they intend to study in college, providing them with practical experience is invaluable. Competitive extracurriculars like math team and science club give them a chance to practice, collaborate, and shine – but we have to market these things to girls, and end the stigma of “math team is for boys”, or “science club is nerdy.” Technical workshops, work-shadow programs, and mentor programs are all great ways to get girls actually doing STEM.
If all else fails, as teachers, the main thing we can do is educate. Teach girls about the many different fields within STEM and how these people are changing the world. Show them how civil engineers are making a difference in developing countries; how data scientists are becoming a major necessity in the business world; and how computer programmers are creating technologies that will revolutionize our everyday lives. Show them the many benefits that come with being a STEM worker, like excellent pay, varied work, and travel opportunities. It's as easy as a Google search.