Everybody is talking about STEM – Science Technology, Engineering and Math – these days. STEM jobs, especially those in technology and engineering, not only offer a chance to shape the world, impact lives, and solve pressing issues, but they also provide great pay. So why don’t more girls choose to go into these lucrative fields?
Simply put, it’s because girls don’t study them.
According to a 2012 National Science Board report, 82 percent of engineering and computer science degrees were awarded to men and only 18 percent to women. You don’t need a degree in statistics to see how unbalanced those numbers are, but they make sense when you look at what’s happening in high school. According to that same study, high school boys were six times more likely to have taken an engineering class than girls. In fact, in 2013, no girls took the AP Computer Science exam in three states!
If we want more girls to study technology and engineering, we’ve got to start early and nurture interest as they grow. Here’s how to get more girls interested in STEM.
Get ‘Em While They’re Young
From a young age, encourage your daughter to observe her surroundings, ask questions and discover answers. Ensure that she plays with all sorts of toys in all sorts of colors. That said, if she’s into all things pink and princess, work with it. Toys like Lego Friends provide opportunities to build while also facilitating a storyline. Friends sets can also be the gateway to building with other Lego sets.
Goldieblox combines pastel-colored building sets with stories that get girls building.
Roominate provides supplies to build and decorate a small room or house as well as wire up working fans or lights with basic circuits.
Have the Talk
Don’t wait until her peers have filled your daughter’s head with myths. Make sure she has the facts: girls can be anything from astronauts to zoologists. In fact, if it weren’t for Ada Lovelace and later Grace Hopper, you might not be reading these words on your screen!
A Simple Experiment
Try this simple exercise regardless of your daughter’s age. Ask her to draw you a picture of a scientist, engineer or computer programmer (or all three) and come up with a description of each. Chances are she’s going to draw a white male. It’s up to you to open her mind to the possibilities that anyone, including her, can grow up to be any of those things.
As She Grows
Keep following her interests and work STEM into them. Does she love to play with makeup? Get a set that helps you mix up beauty products and learn about chemistry through that rather than a traditional kitchen table kit.
Speaking of kitchen table, baking is one big chemistry experiment. What happens when you substitute ingredients in your favorite cookie recipe? Swap out baking powder for baking soda one time, double the amount of sugar the next. Use chemistry to perfect the recipe.
If sewing or knitting is her thing, check out conductive threads and wearable electronics. If you’ve got a crafter on your hands, incorporate littleBits, easy to use colorful electronic components, into art and craft projects to add lights, sound, motion and sensors. Bonus: littleBits founder Ayah Bdeir is a great STEM (and business) role model for your girl!
Maybe your girl is more of a storyteller or artist? Build her computer programming skills and provide a new outlet for her expression.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Middle
It’s important to keep her inspired with STEM role models, especially in middle school when information and even encouragement from parents tends to induce eye roles. Looking for inspiration? Sift through the archives at Steminist and Latinas in STEM or contact local STEM businesses and professional organizations to bring a speaker to your daughter’s school or youth group.
We’re All in This Together
STEM clubs and competitions can be a great way to connect with like-minded peers and build friendships as well as STEM skills.
Some young women take comfort in girls-only classes or groups where they can set aside societal pressures, fear of embarrassing themselves in front of that guy they have a crush on or, and I say this from experience, have to fight to get their voice heard among a chorus of eager, boys.
Our local public high school started offering an all-girls section of their introduction to engineering classes in an effort to boost female enrollment in the four-year pre-engineering sequence. So far, the class has turned out to be quite popular.
Guides, Gurus and Cheerleaders
Anyone who believes in your daughter and helps her believe in herself can be a good guide as your daughter focuses on her higher educational goals. As she moves through her final years, a mentor in her area of study can assist with course selection, study tips and can help your daughter build a network that will ensure a job once she has her degree.