- Teaching and Learning
This month as we have turned our attention to Women in History, I have been reflecting on the ongoing need to better engage girls in science, technology engineering, and math. Not only do we need to inspire them at a young age, but we need to keep them engaged, motivated, and confident in these subjects as they transition into their teen and young adult years.
Without a doubt, there are many accomplished women in the STEM fields but, even in 2021, there still exist gender stereotypes that define STEM careers as more masculine. And, as those fields are majority men it can be less inviting for women to pursue.
Some of the factors that lead to the gender gap in STEM are not surprising. Seeing limited examples of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and programmers in media or even educational material leaves students with too few role models. Math anxiety in girls has also been noted as an impediment to STEM exploration and consideration.
Based on the US Department of Labor Statistics in 2019, women make up only 28% of the workforce in STEM with men greatly outnumbering women majoring in most STEM fields in college. In the fastest growing and highest paying jobs such as engineering and computer science, the gender gap is particularly high. In fact, only 21% of engineering majors and 19% of computer science majors are women. When looking at Black and Latinx populations, the number of women in STEM fields drops even more.
No one wants to force all girls to be STEM professionals in adulthood, but we should all want to be sure we have helped them keep their options open and encouraged them to maintain curiosity through their high school years.
What if we purposefully took steps to do just that? In our classrooms, let’s expose students to a wide variety of science and technology domains to develop a genuine interest in those fields. Help girls to take advantage of in-school, after-school, or summer programs to develop skills and confidence. For those that can become a mentor and for those who cannot consider supporting organizations whose missions are to empower girls for STEM. Explore and share some amazing sites like www.nasa.gov, www.girlstart.org, www.stemlikeagirl.org, www.engineergirl.org, www.girlswhocode.org, https://www.idtech.com/girls
Let’s keep the conversation going so that in the decades to come some of today’s school-age girls will be the next great women in STEM history.
Bernadette Gilmore is the Director of Academic Innovation at Independence, having previously served as Director of Academics & Curriculum, Head of Lower School, and a Kindergarten teacher during her more than two decades with the school. She is also a team member of Independence's Center for Wellness, Innovation, and Learning (CWIL™).