How Do We Get More Girls Involved in STEM?
Beyoncé famously stated that “girls run the world” and while her sentiment is hopeful, there are still academic fields where girls are under-represented. The world of STEM is still largely male dominated, and with this industry booming, it is important that young girls are awarded opportunities to join in. The problem is not that girls are not interested in STEM subjects but that they are not encouraged to enter these fields or study the subjects at school.
The National Girl’s Collaborative Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide support for girls interested in STEM, states that “only 29 % of the science and engineering “ workforce is made up of females. This statistic speaks to a lack of women in this area of innovation. So, the big question is how to we promote STEM subjects to girls? How to we foster a love for the mechanical and chemical?
Swap out Barbie for LEGO Bricks and Chemistry sets
From a young age, girls are handed toys that do not push cognitive thinking. Tea-sets and Barbie dolls seem to pale next to the constructive, free thinking toys that are on offer to boys. Boys are encouraged to build with LEGO and dismantle toy trucks, girls are sometimes not offered the same opportunities, and so an interest in what will become the STEM field is never awakened.
An interest in STEM starts young, and by introducing girls to alternative, less gendered toys we move away from the notion of STEM being a male dominated sphere. A great innovation in the coding field is the “ Code-a-pillar,” a toy that teaches kids as young as three the basics of coding. This trend of STEM toys is becoming more expansive and lucrative with “ STEM toys for girl” being a hot topic. In using play time as a chance to learn; more girls will be equipped with the cognitive tools as well as a positive outlook on STEM.
Providing Academic Support
Studies show that girls are as likely as boys to take STEM subjects in high school but that this passion rarely thrives as they enter college. Academic support from both the school as well as the home is invaluable and plays a vital part in shaping future female innovators. Seeing role models, engaging in interesting content and pushing boundaries is becoming ever more important for young girls. Schools need to push girls to enter into fields that were once deemed as “ too difficult “ for females.
This academic support can also take the form of all girl competitions. Girls In Technology ( GIT) is a great initiative that encourages girls to pursue careers in technology and awards scholarships to exceptional candidates. It is through scholarships, STEM clubs and positive reinforcement that we can build the workforce of tomorrow. These competitions also foster comradery amongst females who at times may feel isolated by their passion. By showing girls that their desire to work in STEM can shape the future, they are more inclined to pursue a career where they feel they are welcome.
Breaking Glass Ceilings
Historically, women have not had the opportunities to study in the STEM fields, and while the physical doors may be open now, the mental ones may not be. Girls need to be supported and encouraged to enter into sectors that are still male-dominated. This comes with questions around adequacy which cripples young STEM learners. Females need to act as mentors and be guiding lights for girls who may be scared off by the notion that Maths is a “boy thing .“ By pushing STEM, girls are assured that their talents and skills are of value and that they bring something to the workforce.
Organizations such as The Society of Women Engineers and The Association of Women in Science offer girls the chance to join in a sisterhood of females who are at the edge of innovation.
STEM careers are the fastest growing job sector. If we want women in those roles, we need to encourage a passion at an early age. Toys are a great first step in the introduction, and by not gendering toys, both girls and boys can feel comfortable with their interests. Girls also require academic support and need to be validated and inspired by other women in STEM fields. Girls have some catching up to do when it comes to STEM, but there is no doubt that with the right programs, toys and attitudes we will see many females innovating the future.