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Empower Girls in STEM

Women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce face major obstacles — not only are they underrepresented and underpaid, but they also sometimes lack the confidence to assert their knowledge. The numbers are even more staggering for women of color in each distinct field. Empower Girls in STEM.

According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis, Hispanic workers make up 17% of total employment across all occupations, but just 8% of all STEM workers. Similarly, Black workers comprise 11% of all employed adults, compared with 9% of those in STEM occupations, with no significant change in this percentage of STEM jobs since 2016.

Although women comprise 50% of workers employed in STEM jobs, they are heavily clustered in health-related roles and account for only 25% of computer-related occupations. Why does such a talent gap continue to persist? What challenges are they facing that impede them from moving forward at the same pace as their male counterparts?

To begin to answer this question, we’ll explore the factors that contribute to the major STEM talent gap girls face early on, solutions to combat such barriers, as well as lists of useful resources to boost their confidence and engage girls in local programs.

How Young Girls Can Combat “The Confidence Gap” in STEM

Did you know that girls’ confidence starts dropping by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14?

That’s what Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know, discovered in their research. As young girls head into adolescence, they tend to gravitate toward certain biological and cultural signals that inherently reinforce carefulness, a need for perfection, and risk aversion.

Instead of attempting new things and taking the risk to fail and move on, girls are pushed toward perfectionistic qualities that don’t nurture their ability to step out of their comfort zones. Kay and Shipman’s data revealed that the percentage of girls who say they are not allowed to fail rises 150% between the ages of 12 and 13, with 45% of 13 year olds stating they don’t feel able to fail.

As young girls continue to grow and accelerate their learning, these attributes are only further exacerbated by societal pressures — ultimately playing out through adulthood. How can we build young girls’ confidence?

Practicing Healthy Social Media Habits

In today’s interconnected world, it’s hard to escape the beast that is social media. Research shows that 39% percent of kids opened their first social media account between 10 and 12 years old.

With young girls being susceptible to the negative effects of the internet, including feelings of decreased self worth and dejection, parents are encouraged to follow these tips:

Screen Vacation

Just as in real-life, sometimes you may need a break from your social media accounts. Set aside a few days, or even a week, and put away the phone.

Go back to the basics and engage in activities that don’t involve a screen — this could include spending time outdoors, playing a sport, catching up with friends or family in person, etc. Ask your child to reflect on their “time off.” Depending on how they feel, they could make this vacation a regular habit.

24-Hour Rule

When you have the itch to tweet, Instagram, Snap, or post anything online, ask your child to give themselves 24 hours.

How do they feel after an entire day has passed? Do they still feel the need to share their post with the online world? Maybe they don’t think it’s as urgent as it originally seemed.

The Grandma Test

Encourage young girls to ask themselves, “This photo, link, or post that I’m sharing with others online, would I also share that with my grandma — someone who is disconnected from trends and influencers?”

By asking them to pause and think twice before publishing any content that may be negative or do more harm than good, they can avoid getting caught up in the rush of social media.

Follow the Right People

How we think affects how we feel — which ultimately impacts our behavior. This goes hand-in-hand with the type of content that shows up on your newsfeed. Encourage young girls to keep their following to a minimum and be hyper-aware of who they’re choosing to look up to.

Sit down together and spotlight some trailblazers in the STEM field who have active social accounts they can follow. While these professionals may not be the most popular or viral, the dedication and motivation that pushes them to reach their goals may become significant driving forces for your own child’s future career aspirations.

Highlight Hashtags

One simple way of keeping up with interests on social media is through hashtags. Staying up-to-date on specific hashtags can help your child better engage with niche communities as opposed to what’s merely trending online.

Take a look through some of these: #STEMCareers #STEMGirls #WomenInSTEM #GirlsInSTEM #GirlsInTech #WomenInTech #STEMEducation

Starting the Journey in Early Education

You’re probably familiar with the age-old adage of, “It’s never too late to start something new.” The same goes for young girls’ education — it’s never too early to expose them to STEM-related resources, including:

  • Books
  • Technology
  • Educational programs
  • Activities

Believe it or not, we’re exposed to stereotypes that subliminally direct our behavior and decisions from an early age. By first grade, children have already developed implicit biases associating math with boys. In turn, the AAUW report, Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing, found that girls who associate mathematics with boys and men at this early age are less likely to become interested in or pursue the field, as well as dedicate time to studying or engaging related concepts.

This difference persists into adolescence and eventually adulthood. In a 2020 report, UNICEF discovered that only 18% of female university learners throughout the world pursue STEM fields, compared to 35% of men. The imbalance continues into graduate and doctoral levels as well.

STEM learning starts naturally for toddler-aged children, and can happen even earlier. At the preschool level, children often ask various questions about the world around them such as, “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why are dinosaurs extinct?”, and “Where does water come from?”

Combat Gender Bias and Stereotypes

In order to combat gender bias and societal stereotypes, it’s important to capture young girls’ curiosity and attention through fun, engaging experiences. Instead of focusing on “why” questions, shift their attention to “what”:

  • What happened there?
  • What did you try?
  • What have you changed about what you are making?
  • What do you notice about ________?
  • What do you think will happen if we _______?

These types of questions not only help girls further develop their communication and developmental skills, but it also helps them build confidence, become comfortable using critical thinking skills, and voice their thoughts and opinions.

Encourage Basic Skills

Just like real-world STEM professionals ask questions, develop models, and conduct investigations — teachers and parents alike can encourage the following basic skills:

Scientific Process Skills
Skill Definition Example
Observing Using the senses to gather information about an object or event Describing a pencil as yellow
Inferring Making an “educated guess” about an object or event based on previously gathered data or information Determining that the person who used a particular pencil made alot of mistakes because the eraser is well-worn
Measuring Using both standard and non-standard measures or estimates to describe the dimensions of an object or event Using a meter stick to measure the length of a table in centimeters
Communicating Using words or graphic symbols to describe an action, object, or event Describing the change in height of a plant over time in writing or through a graph
Classifying  Grouping or ordering objects or events into categories based on properties or criteria Placing all rocks sharing a certain grain size or hardness into one group
Predicting  Stating the outcome of a future event based on a pattern of evidence Predicting the plant height  in two weeks’ time based on a graph of its growth during the previous four weeks

Source: Empower Girls in STEM

“Breaking the Glass Ceiling Early On: How to Empower Girls in STEM”

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