As the world continues to grow at a rapid pace, the need for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are becoming more important. Women and girls in STEM careers will discover new things that can make a genuinely positive impact on the world, and ourselves.
But, despite all the marketing and talk in the media about the importance of these careers, we’re still seeing a huge gender gap between women and men in STEM careers. Perhaps there are stereotypes and misconceptions about the industry that lead girls and young women to believe they’re not suited for these careers, maybe they just don’t know enough or aren’t pushed in that direction enough when they show interest.
Whatever the reason, less than 30% of those employed in STEM careers are women. So today, we want to talk about a few of the reasons we support women and girls in STEM careers and how you can support each one.
Act as role models
Do you remember who you admired growing up? Did they help shape your perspective on life or what’s possible? Did they act as your motivator?
We all have people we see as role models in our lives. People we aspire to be more like. So when big Hollywood movies portray women in STEM careers as stuffy, introverted scientists, who wear white cloaks and geeky glasses, many young girls keep that image in their head and start to form their own opinions and judgements of that career.
Microsoft did a study and found that when girls in middle and high school personally knew a woman in STEM they were more likely to see it as a powerful, relevant career for women and themselves.
Also, women who have STEM role models today, go on to be role models for the next generation, so the support grows generation after generation.
How you can help: If you are a woman in a STEM career, volunteer your time to support young girls in STEM activities and programs. Maybe volunteer to speak to a school or girls club. Maybe you can mentor a young girl who shows interest in these careers. If you are not in a STEM career yourself, encourage girls when they show passion for STEM or introduce them to other women you know in these careers.
Encourage gender equality
Society keeps reminding us that women can do everything as well as men, but also that men are also better-suited at certain careers than women. It’s quite a confusing message, especially for young girls who are still forming their opinions and perspectives of the world. Even Hollywood blockbuster movies are showing us movies of men excelling in STEM jobs, and women being the “homemakers.”
To their credit, we’re noticing that Hollywood is doing a much better job of bringing more powerful women to the big screen, but the movie industry still thrives on movies about male and female stereotypes. In reality, men are just as good at more traditionally women careers, and women are just as good at more traditionally men’s careers. All anyone needs is the right drive, skills, and education.
How you can help: Keep being a cheerleader for girls and young women. Support them in any career path they choose, even if it clashes with your personal gender stereotypes. If a girl is showing interest in a particular STEM career, provide them with opportunities to explore it to see if it is something they enjoy.
Support open-ended problem solving
Open-ended problem solving is a problem that may have several correct answers or several correct ways to get to the same answer. It encourages using your unique set of experiences and knowledge to problem solve, not just regurgitating a formula you learned verbatim.
For example, ask 5 students how to get from their school to the local grocery store. Each student may come up with different paths to get to the same location. They may choose to walk, drive, or take the bus. One might go down the main street, but another will cut through a creekside trail to get there.
The discussion of why each student chooses their particular path might open up new perspectives and ideas. Maybe the discussion will lead to the group deciding on the most efficient path or a path with the least environmental impact. This type of learning is critical for opening up new ideas and is used often in STEM careers.
How you can help: Encourage girls to come to their own conclusions regarding problems, and explain their thinking around each one, even if they don’t get to the expected or desired outcome. It encourages risk-taking and experimentation. If you are an educator or parent, provide a safe place such as a classroom or extracurricular club for them to explore through open-ended problem-solving.
Help women impact the world
In the Microsoft study, 72% of girls and young women said having a job that helps the world is important to them. There are many great women throughout history who have some amazing things for humanity and our planet:
- Roberta Bondar was an Astronaut Neurologist and the world’s first female Astronaut.
- Christina Koch and Jessica Meir lead the first all-female space walk last month.
- Radia Perlman (aka the Mother of the Internet) developed a child-friendly programming language for children as young as 3.
- Joan Clarke a code breaker and Cryptanalyst who cracked German Enigma ciphers in WWII
This list could go on forever. These women impacted the world in such incredible ways and they are role models for so many women and girls today. In the age of technology and the internet, we see (sometimes in real-time) the achievements of women around the world.
How you can help: When you hear of live events, like the first all-women spacewalk, sit down with your children and girls and watch it together. When you hear news of women-led achievements in STEM, share this news with young women in your life and discuss it.
Let’s support women and girls in STEM…starting now!
77% of girls who participate in STEM clubs or activities say it makes them feel powerful. Who are we to deny a young girl the chance to feel powerful? The Microsoft study found that girls who engaged in STEM extracurriculars in school were more prepared and felt confident in knowing how to pursue a career in that industry.
Help us break down the misconceptions about this exciting career path by being supportive role models, encourage gender-equality in any career, support opportunities for open-ended problem solving, and providing opportunities for girls and women to impact the world in their own way.
Now we challenge you to do 1 thing today to support women and girls in STEM. How will you share STEM with the next generation?