In an era of rapid technological development, STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is greatly valued but the gender inequality still exists. Men far outnumber women both in STEM education and careers. According to a recent UNESCO survey, only 30% of women in higher education worldwide study STEM-related subjects. Is there a gender difference in talent when it comes to STEM? If more girls study STEM, how will such trend impact the community? As parents and educators, how can we support girls in STEM?
1) Common myths about girls learning STEM
Myth #1: “Girls are not as talented as boys when studying science. As soon as the curriculum becomes more difficult, girls cannot stay competitive.”
Many people believe that boys are better at logical reasoning by nature, while girls are more gifted in language and arts. Yet many studies have disproved this assumption. In elementary school, girls and boys do not show significant differences in STEM learning. However, boys began to show an advantage in math and science after adolescence. Researchers believe that one potential reason is that girls grow up with stereotype threats and become more anxious about learning and exploring STEM.
Myth #2: ” Doing STEM research is too much work and unpopular with girls.”
Researchers believe that gender stereotypes prevent girls from associating their feminine identity with “STEM learners.” Girls’ subconscious rejection of STEM may make them less confident to pursue careers in these fields.
2) Why do we need to encourage more girls to pursue STEM?
1.Diversity brings more innovative perspectives
As more girls enter STEM fields, they will bring more variety to the previously male-dominated teams. Nowadays, building innovative products often require team members with different perspectives, backgrounds, and identities. Encouraging more girls into STEM fields can contribute to the team’s overall innovation.
2.The quantity and quality of our STEM talent pool will improve.
In a competitive global economy, human resources are essential if we want to stay ahead in innovation. Encouraging more girls to study and work in STEM fields can produce a larger talent pool.
3.The gender pay gap will be reduced
Due to the innovative value of STEM, STEM jobs tend to pay more. Encouraging more girls to pursue STEM-related careers can also indirectly reduce the gender pay gap.
3) How can we support girls in STEM?
1.Make STEM more accessible to encourage girls’ participation
While there is no well-founded evidence about gender difference in STEM, girls tend to be more susceptible to stereotypes and less confident. Therefore, an accessible introductory course can help girls overcome their anxiety and build interest in STEM. Many programming education institutions have partnered with elementary schools to establish programming clubs, online classes and summer camps for girls ( Girls Can Code, Kode with Klossy etc.)
2.Provide more engaging, hands-on STEM lessons
A 2018 Microsoft survey noted that offering more fun and hands-on lessons can help keep girls interested in STEM. During creation, students can apply the theories they learned to solve problems, thus gaining a deeper appreciation for the joy of creation.
3.Create more communities to provide role models
More communities are established to support girls in STEM, connecting women working in tech with young girls. As more girls feel the support of these women, they can relate their identity as women to “STEM professionals” and are therefore able to overcome the gender stereotypes.
In summary, girls are not gifted differently than boys in STEM learning, but they tend to face gender stereotypes,feel more anxious about learning STEM and having difficulty developing an identity to explore STEM-related education and careers. Achieving gender equality in STEM is still a long way. But by offering more basic, fun, and hands-on STEM programs, increasing mentors and role models, and promoting the stories of successful women in STEM, girls will be more confident to explore STEM. Let’s hope that more girls will use the power of technology to fulfill their dreams and bring more innovation and possibilities to this male-dominated field in the future.
(Weijing Liu,Di Zhao)