Bridging the Gap Between Girls and STEM

CHARLOTTE BEACH

STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) is a branch of academia that I know (at least the science aspect of it) reasonably well. It is also an area where my gender means I am a minority. It’s not unusual to find myself sat in a lecture surrounded by guys and in my A-Level physics class I was one of two in a class of 13. Also throughout my undergrad degree, from around 40 lecturers, six of them have been female.

I could go on but the picture is clear, women aren’t prevalent in STEM fields. This, however, is not due to the (incorrect) assumption that boys are simply better in these areas than girls. Performance between girls and boys at GCSE level in STEM subjects sees girls consistently out-perform boys in almost all STEM areas bar maths, and even in that case the numbers are very close.[1]

So why is this still such an issue?

Parental Influence
It’s common knowledge that children are heavily influenced by their parents, and this can be applied directly to possible career choices they may make. A study by BIS showed that only 15% of girls had been encouraged to do engineering by a parent, compared with 35% of boys. Similar low numbers applied to teacher encouragement (18% vs 10%). Also, parents of girls would much rather see them in teaching or nursing careers, whereas for boys engineering and scientific paths were preferred.[2]

The “science girl” trope
Women in STEM in pop culture are rare, and those few who do appear on television are usually portrayed as geeky and a bit odd. The kind of girl who’s useful to spout science, but one who also lives up to a lot of teenagers fears that the brand of “nerd” can never be removed
and leads to a life with excessive amounts of cats. Take The Big Bang Theory’s Amy, who comes across as awkward in social situations and portrays the nerd “girls wear glasses and dress like grandmas” trope.
This stereotype has started to break down in some areas but is still considered the norm and puts a harmful spin on the types of women in STEM fields, deterring rather than encouraging girls to follow in their footsteps.

Role Models?
Even in non-fictional settings, the number of women in the public eye with scientic recognition is again small. Of Nobel prize winners, Marie Curie is probably the only well known woman in the science field to have been awarded one. She is also one of only six women to have been awarded the prize for chemistry and/or physics.[3] Personally, asked to name a
famous scientist the names at the forefront of my mind are all male.

What’s Next?
I believe the solution to this is found in schools. Moving forward with a STEM career can depend largely on choices made as early as 13, with girls not having taken GCSE triple science hindering possible STEM futures.[1] Having role models in schools that girls can learn from and look up to is a big step in helping the next generation realise their potential and
begin to restore balance in the STEM workforce.

[1] Engineering UK. (2015) The state of engineering. London: Engineering UK
[2] BIS (2013) Review of Engineering Skills, November 2013. London: BIS
[3] \Nobel Prize Awarded Women”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 14 Oct 2015.
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html

Bridging the Gap Between Girls and STEM

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