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The Truth About Girls And STEM

The Truth About Girls And STEM

Woman have come a long way when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Although women age 23 to 64 are three times more likely to have a college degree now than they were in 1970, the most common fields for a woman to work these days are still areas such as child care, elementary and middle school teachers, medical/dental assistants and as secretaries. Very few of these occupations have anything to do with science or technology.

The professions with the highest percentage of men, such as CEOs, managers, architects, engineers, etc. all require STEM training to some degree.

Anna Pollina is head of the Westover School in MIddlebury, Connecticut where she also teaches math. During a recent Jam Session she talked about the state of STEM education with young girls, why it’s important and what can be done to encourage girls to pursue these educational roads.

Why should we encourage STEM education and careers?

The biggest reason STEM education needs to be a priority is simple economic reality. The fastest growing jobs in our economy are high tech jobs.

Women make up about 48% of the total workforce, but in STEM jobs they only represent about 24% of all workers. Hourly earning of STEM job are higher than those of non-STEM jobs. There is also less of an earnings gap in STEM fields, so a girl with a STEM background can make as much as man with the same training.

Meta-Stereotypes Hold Girls Back

Meta-stereotypes are ideas that we have about math and science that simply aren’t true. They can affect just about anyone, but they are disproportionately held by women.

The idea that some people are pre-destined to be talented in math and science is a good example of a meta-stereotype. It’s a misconception that some people have a “head for figures” or are just naturally good at science. In other cultures, where women are expected to succeed in these areas, they do.

Scientists, although not always portrayed as men, but who are often pictured as nerds, is another typical meta-stereotype. It can be off-putting to girls when scientists are seen as mad scientists who don’t engage with the world. Women who already work in STEM careers are encouraged to reach out to local schools, Girl Scout troops, etc., so that young girls can see positive examples of women in STEM.

Call to Action

When teaching girls math and science it’s important not use girls’ intellectual virtues against them. In math, speed often is valued over reflection and girls can be meticulous and reflective when developing a solution to a problem. Girls also often take copious notes, and so in a classroom a girl may not be engaging in the conversation in the same way. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t present.

An Expectation of Success

When working with girls, words and feedback are important, and should be watched closely. No one would ever say, “You don’t have to learn to read, no one in this family is a good reader,” yet similar language is often used around math and science.

She also offered ideas encouraging girls in STEM, such as finding weekend and summer STEM program for girls and including your daughter’s friends in plans.

It’s also important to have open conversations with girls about the messaging they may encounter as they pursue STEM. It’s important, for example, to make your daughter aware of stereotypes that equate computing with men. Leading by example is the best way to make girls interested in technical topics, and suggests using software in real-world activities with your daughter.