Research shows negative stereotyping and unconscious bias impacts girls’ participation in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) at school.
It also points to the benefit of role models and fostering positive attitudes towards these subjects.
With International Women’s Day 2019 putting the spotlight on creating a #BalanceforBetter across all industries, Dr Rebecca Cooper shares five practices that can help influence girls’ future career choices.
1. Give girls a chance to talk about what STEM looks like for them.
Make informal talk about STEM a regular and normal part of your conversations with girls. Share information, ask questions and talk with them about their feelings about STEM to gain insights into why they hold these attitudes.
Talk about what they like and dislike about science, engineering, technology and maths and why. What careers exist that they may have never heard of or considered suitable? What new ideas and issues in STEM interest and inspire them? How do they think about their own future possibilities?
Get to know what girls are interested in, and then support them to pursue their interests through networks, online, attending public lectures and reading. Encourage them to carry out their own investigations and to share their ideas with others.
Think in limitless terms and brainstorm broadly by asking what they would most like to see changed in the world and how they might contribute to that through STEM.
Then make a plan, together.
2. Find STEM role models that girls can relate to
It’s hard to be what you can’t see, so once you know what interests your students, find people who are working in that area, especially women, who can share their story and bring it life.
They need to be role models girls can relate to, and see themselves being in the future, so that their dream can become a clear goal.
Sometimes highflyers can be daunting as role models, so showcasing ‘regular’ women is often powerful and realistic.
Make the success – and the journey to get there – visible and tangible. Get them to describe their pathways in detail.
The more girls get used to hearing about – and from – women in these roles, the more normal it will seem.
3. Bust those stereotypes
Research has shown that promoting a growth mindset can challenge negative stereotypes about the ability of girls to succeed in STEM.
This is especially important when girls are young and also in senior years when they are under pressure to select subjects.
Learn what areas of STEM girls enjoy and are interested in, and encourage them to pursue it. It’s something we all know as teachers: if students enjoy a subject they are more motivated to put in the hard work and stay engaged with it over time.
4. Expose girls to the full range of STEM career options early on
Give girls access to advice and information about STEM-related careers early and often so it becomes a part of an ongoing conversations with teachers, family and friends.
This way as girls move through school, select subjects and eventually make choices about university and a career, STEM is on their radar.
By learning about the career options available in STEM when they are young, girls can talk with teachers, family and friends about choosing STEM subjects and pursuing STEM as a career, in regular conversations.
5. Create a more balanced approach to STEM
The International Women’s Day 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign is a call to action to build a more gender-balanced world, with opportunities for all.
This applies to creating a more balanced approach to considering STEM for study or a career in three ways:
- Balancing input from students with input from teachers and others.
- Balancing the conversation so that it includes STEM, avoids stereotypes and encourages a more balanced view of everyone’s potential.
- Balancing classroom opportunities to broaden student thinking to include other skills that will encourage their growth as well-rounded, well-informed and self-assured people.
- Leading Collaboration through STEM Education - Short course
- The STEM Guide 2018–19: The Girls' Guide to Great Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
- Support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Boston, J., & Cimpian, A. (2018). Here’s how to encourage more girls to pursue science and maths careers. The Conversation.
Hobbs, L., Jakab, C., Millar. V., Prain, V., Redman, C., Speldewinde., Tytler, R., & van Driel, J. (2017). Girls’ Future – Our Future. The Invergowrie Foundation STEM Report. Invergowrie Foundation, Melbourne.
Kennedy, J. P., Lyons, T., & Quinn, F. (2014). The continuing decline of science and mathematics enrolments in Australian high schools.Teaching Science, 60(2), pp. 34–46.
Watt H., Eccles, J. & Durik, A. (2006). The leaky mathematics pipeline for girls: A motivational analysis of high school enrolments in Australia and the USA. Equal Opportunities International, 25(8), pp. 642–659.