Girls and STEM: A Match Waiting to be Made

“You can’t possibly do it; it’s a man’s job.”

“You should stay out of this. Us men will take care of it.”

“You’re a girl. This isn’t the job for you.”

“You should take up something else. There aren’t many girls in this field.”

Déjà vu, anybody? If you’re a female, then there’s a 100% chance that you must have heard one of these, if not all, at least once in your life; and sadly, from another female on multiple occasions.

This social image of women around the world, that has been so deeply etched into the minds of everybody, acts as a major setback, among many others, for girls to even dare to dream of participating in activities that are supposedly ‘meant for boys’, let alone choose careers in science or engineering.

In a world that is progressing at an exponential rate, isn’t living with a perception that is centuries old and doesn’t fit quite right in stopping us from reaching our full potential as a species? Doesn’t it sound logical that if we let this neglected half stand with us shoulder to shoulder and contribute as much as their counterparts do as of today, we would actually be able to reach milestones that seem like a distant dream at present?

Looking at the Current Picture

In the past few years, STEM has mushroomed, both in education and in the job sector, in most of the major developed and developing countries, with its epicentre being the Educate to Innovate campaign launched by the U.S. government under Obama Administration in 2009. Since then, the number of STEM graduates has increased manifoldly. As mentioned in an article by Forbes, The World Economic Forum reported in 2016 that China, India, and the US were the top three countries in the STEM revolution, with China and India producing a staggering 4.7 million and 2.6 million STEM graduates respectively.

Image Courtesy: Forbes

Despite having these many STEM graduates, the world still faces a shortage of able STEM graduates. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Centre, 2.4 million jobs are projected to go unfilled this year, with the reason being lack of graduates with the required skill set. As a result, the gap keeps on widening, and since the number of STEM jobs that spring up in the market is only going to increase, if the imbalance is not checked in time, we would reach a point from where bridging the gap would become impossible forever.

Girls in STEM

Girls are as intelligent and talented as a boy when it comes to STEM. According to a 2014 WISE Report, girls achieved better or equal grades compared to boys in all STEM subjects. Many other studies and statistics also show that girls always perform equally well as boys, if not better. In short, they have what it takes to enter a STEM career. If given an equal number of opportunities, they would contribute as good as their counterparts, sometimes even outperform them. But, they are still underrepresented in the STEM world, which is predominantly male.

Studies show that there are various factors that hold girls back from entering the STEM world. They range from social stereotypes about their intellectual abilities to lack of role models, mentors, and encouragement from parents, not providing ample opportunities for getting hands-on experience during childhood. As a result, their interest in STEM subjects and willingness to pursue a STEM career declines.

With a significantly less number of girls in STEM, the world is missing out on potentially revolutionary ideas and breakthrough contributions that may change how we live for the greater good. But how do we go about it and increase the number of girls in STEM?

How Can We Bring About a Change?

(Not so) surprisingly, to tackle a problem so big, we don’t really need to keep waiting for the governments, schools, and other organisations to come with stem programs for girls; we can, as it turns out, even start small. How and where? In our homes.

What could parents like you possibly do for your budding daughters to encourage them to explore the world of STEM? Quite a lot. Parents are the first people that children first come across; and how they raise them, what values and ideals they instill in them shapes how the children are going to turn out to be. Thus, they hold a key, if not the key, to turn things around. Moreover, if we don’t start at home and don’t encourage them, no amount of efforts by external organisations would suffice to increase the representation of girls in STEM.

So, what can you do?

Fight against stereotypes about girls’ intellect

The main culprit behind girls not choosing STEM subjects, or losing their interest in them is the social stereotypes about their intellectual abilities. Given how pervasive these stereotypes are, it becomes even more important for parents to fight against them with full force and make their daughters believe that they are no less intelligent than boys and that they can develop skills and better themselves by practice, just like others. There are numerous studies out there that actually show that girls too have what it takes to be a part of STEM. The key is to make it seem normal and equal for everyone.

Talk about successful women in STEM

At a time where stereotypes are ubiquitous, even having the abilities are not enough. You need something concrete and believable that can instill in them a hope that girls can do it no matter what the societies say. Exposing them and talking about other successful women in STEM, their struggles, their efforts, and how they fought against all the odds can help girls relate to them and believe that if those women can, they can do it too.

Help build interest in STEM from a young age

All children, irrespective of their gender, are innately curious when they are young. If this curiosity is tapped into at the right time in the right way, then nothing can stop them from becoming the innovators of tomorrow. The key is to keep this flame of curiosity alive by encouraging to experience everything around them, rather than just read about it or have a look at it passively. This can be done by taking them to science exhibitions, fairs, and museums, by encouraging to perform STEM activities, take up STEM projects and find creative solutions to the problems around them on their own.

Change your own perception

The most important of all is how we perceive girls, their abilities, STEM, and girls in STEM. Before anything or anybody else, we need to first change how we look at the female half and their capabilities. Unless people as a whole change their perception, no matter how much girls work hard and strive, they are still going to suffer from a lot of setbacks and ultimately end up quitting or changing careers.

In a Nutshell

Girls are smart, talented, and brilliant. They have the right the qualities, and capabilities for STEM careers. However, hurdles such as stereotypes regarding their intellectual abilities, about STEM, and lack of role models and opportunities prevent them from unlocking their true potential and entering the world of STEM. To begin turning the tables at a larger scale, we must first start small. This is where parents come into the picture. They are the first people children meet in their lives, and whose ideas and actions shape how and who they will grow into. By taking advantage of this fact they can help their daughters break the stereotypes, and believe in themselves. This would give them the confidence and hope that they lack, and encourage them to pursue STEM.

Psst. A little something before you leave!

Thank you for taking out the time to read this blog! If you enjoyed reading it and would like to read more about parenting in the modern world, go check out these blogs as well!