Women make up nearly half of America’s workforce but constitute only 27% of workers in STEM jobs. To create a more diverse and innovative workforce, we need to encourage and empower girls to explore STEM careers.
By implementing STEM programs and initiatives in as early as middle school, school districts can increase young women’s exposure to STEM career opportunities. This will help close the gender gap in these fields and provide more opportunities for women to succeed in well-paid careers.
Why do girls lack interest in STEM?
Women earn only 18% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science in the US. This gender gap is due in part to a lack of female role models, self-bias and external biases. To combat these, girls need to see other women succeeding in STEM careers so they can feel encouraged to pursue these fields themselves.
Despite young girls lacking interest in STEM career paths, they frequently show a strong capacity for the skills utilized in these careers. One study shows that female junior and senior high-school students’ STEM aptitude scores far outweigh their self-defined interest in STEM.
Simply put, young women are not being exposed to the numerous careers for which they are well-suited, which may lead young women to never learn of STEM career paths. STEM careers are projected to grow at a rate more than two times that of all other occupations. Now more than ever it’s important to uplift girls to explore STEM occupations.
Empower girls to pursue STEM careers
School districts should focus on encouraging more young women to pursue STEM education and careers. These four recommendations for educators, school administrators, counselors and even parents can increase young women’s exposure to STEM opportunities.
- Facilitate hands-on learning. Many young female students are looking for real-world experience. We must provide opportunities for internships and jobs in STEM fields. Offering after-school programs about STEM or implementing career and technical education courses such as tech engineering and computer science will provide young women early access into their future career pathways.
- Increase engagement. Help students become more engaged in what they’re learning. Aptitude assessment data can help young women better understand where their natural abilities lie. It also can help connect the dots between what they are learning in the classroom and how it translates to future educational or career pathways.
- Support with scholarships. Offering financial assistance also can help nudge girls into STEM education. Money for college or STEM-focused programs, a trip to a STEM conference or participating in a STEM leadership event in high school can each contribute much-needed education and exposure.
- Invest in tools. Several tools can help students identify their talents and start thinking about educational and career pathways. In Hamilton County, Tenn., we use YouScience Discovery to help students learn what they are good at and to guide them to potential college majors or careers. Many of our female students have been surprised to discover they have an aptitude for STEM subjects.
It’s critical that we take the necessary steps to promote gender parity in STEM. We need to expose and educate young girls to STEM subjects and careers beginning in middle school, empowering them to pursue these fields. This can help us make education more relevant for everyone, eliminate the STEM gender gap and let girls take full advantage of their natural talents.
Sarah Malone is the lead college and career adviser for the Hamilton County Schools District in Chattanooga, Tenn., which uses YouScience Discovery. She has worked in the district’s secondary space for the past 12 years to break down barriers to student success as an advocate, resource coordinator and educator for students, families and staff.
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