Skills gained through subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can impact the world around us, and therefore, are some of the most desirable in the present and future markets. Despite the fact that more women than men are graduating from college, fewer girls are seeking careers in STEM fields.
There's more that can be done to engage and encourage girls from the earliest ages to step into STEM, but first, we need to understand the career obstacles they face.
Professor of Law, Joan C. Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review, discussed research uncovering several patterns that consistently prevent girls from pursuing STEM careers.
This isn’t a new obstacle for women in the workforce. It is the basis of many longstanding theories about income inequality. Researchers found that a full two-thirds of the women they interviewed experienced having to prove themselves over and over again —despite their successes. The disparity extends even more predominately to black women, but less to women of Asian decent.
Loss of Identity
Participants expressed that they regularly needed to behave in a masculine way to be seen as competent. More than one-third of the women reported feeling pressure to act in masculine enough ways to be taken seriously yet feminine enough to be considered likable. Walking this tightrope is incredibly stressful and may be off-putting to some young women.
One pattern of bias that has never before been identified in similar studies was the feeling of isolation women in STEM careers experience. Nearly half of the participants admit feeling socially excluded, while others said they preferred to keep their private lives separate from work.
Women are expected to do it all, have families, career, and juggle the two with grace and efficiency. Many women in STEM fields seem to find this balance difficult to obtain. They noted feeling like they would miss out on career opportunities, lose credibility, or be discounted if they chose to pursue a family.
While many of the biases identified are also present in other fields, it appears that women in STEM professions experience them in higher rates and more extreme manifestations. Not to say this gender-bias cannot be dealt with by applying strategy to overcome these obstacles.
Ways to help encourage career opportunities:
- STEM is all around you. Ask your child, “how do you think this works?” then join her in discovery. Research together to find the answers. This inquisitiveness will perpetuate interest.
- Insist on replacing “I can’t” with “I will try.” This simple change in mindset will be a major factor when faced with real-world barriers.
- Plan regular outings to your local science center or children’s museum. The more she is exposed to STEM the more comfortable she will be in classroom settings.
- For the same reason as #3, have her attend science camp. These may be affiliated with children’s museums, science centers, or universities.
- Buy her toys that are STEM-based. This can be anything from robotics kits, drones, and even Legos. Encourage her to explore the toys, extending the way they were meant to be used. One example is to see which of you can build the tallest tower using Jenga blocks or build a house of cards with the UNO deck. This encourages creativity and thinking outside the box while employing STEM skills.
- Introduce her to role models - women who have successfully pursued STEM careers. This is an excellent way to showcase the many types of career opportunities STEM provides.
- Assume she is interested in science and mathematics, even if you were not at that age. Don’t impose any negative feelings you may have had when you were a student.
It takes courage for young women to pursue such a male-dominated field and tenacity to realize success. We know through research, that individual biases exist that are keeping women out of STEM careers. However, with thoughtfulness and strategy, we can engage and inspire our girls to overcome and reach greatness in this exciting and crucial field.
Greater Atlanta Christian School is committed to preparing students with the skills and knowledge needed to pursue careers in STEM fields. Our advanced curriculum and state-of-the-art STEM facilities, give students every advantage they need to be successful in science, technology, engineering, and math in college and beyond. Visit our campus to see STEM in action at every level.