By now, most people are aware of how wide the gender gap in STEM has become, and if you’re one of the more woke people, you understand that this issue is pervasive and begins as early as third grade for girls. In case you haven’t been clued in – yes, it’s true, women are a minority in STEM careers. Women make up 48% of the American workforce and with that logic, it would stand to reason that women would make up 48% of STEM fields. But I wouldn’t be writing this article if that were the case. No, dear reader, women do not make up 48% of STEM careers, they make up 24% of them. Indeed, some STEM fields, such as biology, see higher numbers of women, but it’s worth bearing in mind that quantity does not mean equality. For example the most prestigious award given out to scientists, the Nobel Prize, has notoriously honored pitiful numbers of women. 203 Nobel Prizes have been distributed to physicists but only 2 of those physicists were women. 211 prizes have been awarded in medicine and physiology but only 12 of those recipients were women. So you catch my drift.
There are hundreds of studies and good people working hard to correct these numbers. The theories for the lack of women in STEM extend to sexism, lack of familial support, Queen Bee syndrome, and even the worst of the arguments inferring that women are biologically inclined to pursue non-STEM careers – eek!
What I have for you today is a solid 5-point strategy to combat these issues head on. Some of them are based in study, some in anecdote from my personal journey in science. Even if you decide not to use all of them, just one of these can make all the difference to the girls in your life.
#1 – Surround your girl with awesome science accessories
Let’s be real here, STEM fields require plenty of effort and hours of study that some students may be less than enthusiastic about. But can you imagine how fun it would be to be studying space and then to look down at your nails and see the Eagle Nebula at your finger tips?! For me, my infatuation with all things science started in college. Yes, my classes were difficult and sometimes had me down. But starting my day with my favorite caffeine molecule mug always put me in the right mindset that no matter what happens on my test that day, this is my passion. Sprinkling the wonder of science around her life can be something that continues to motivate her. Not sure where to start looking? Think Geek and Etsy have tons of fun science gear to keep your steminist intrigued. Not every science toy in her life needs to be an experiment or lesson, some just look pretty. For girls who feel like they don’t fit the stereotypes they about scientists being unworried about fashion, meeting her in the middle with science fashion is a great way to show her that yes, she belongs here and there is a place for every type of girl in STEM. There’s nothing wrong with meeting girls where there interests lie to introduce them to STEM.
#2 – Be honest about stereotypes surrounding women
As an 8 year old, I used to become so exasperated when my mom would go off on a lecture about all the things I needed to be aware of as a woman: what people will think of me if I decide to wear a certain outfit to work or that some people don’t think women are as smart as men, etc. At times I think I even called her paranoid. But as I’ve grown up and lived on my own, there is some truth to what my mom said. People will make unfair assessments of you based on trivial stereotypes they carry, especially if you are a women or a minority, of which I am both. I’m sure this is not a conversation parents want to have with their daughters, but it is a necessary one. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Would you prefer your daughter went through her career being paid less than men without having the slightest idea? Wouldn’t you want her to know that this is an issue and at the very least to keep an eye on it?
#3 – Expose her to a variety of STEM topics
Sometimes girls will be gifted a science kit, for instance a chemistry kit. Perhaps they work their way through it and don’t enjoy themselves. Thus, they exclaim to their parents that they don’t enjoy science and would prefer to pursue a different field. Is the daughter wrong? Not necessarily. Sure, maybe she didn’t enjoy that kit for reasons that could pertain to quality or appropriate age level. Maybe she didn’t enjoy the kit because she doesn’t like chemistry. But does this mean that she doesn’t like science? Not yet! Science is such a vast field with all sorts of topics to study that there’s not a one-size-fits-all option for girls these days. Introduce your girls to different aspects of science as often as possible. Maybe she doesn’t enjoy chemistry, but will she enjoy building a bridge and testing it? If she hates the bridge, maybe sharks are more her game. Whatever the case is, don’t give up! There is so much to explore.
What do you do if she enjoys science but doesn’t enjoy the technical aspects of it or would prefer not to spend her career in a lab? Don’t sweat it, there are still hundreds of occupations that involve science outside of research. Did you know that Hollywood hires science writers to help them research movie plots? Or that you can be an artist who illustrates for science magazines and books? Is something on screen more her speed? The world could use so many more women in popularizing science on screen! Make sure she knows theses options exist and science blends beautifully with other fields of study as well.
#4 – Find female role models
One of the most frustrating things I’ve realized growing up is that there are no women at the level of science celebrity that Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Carl Sagan have been celebrated for. Why is this? I still don’t have a great answer for this question. But what I do know is that the lack of female role models in positions of power can be seriously damaging to girls’ abilities to see themselves successfully pursuing those top level positions. Some may argue that Miss Frizzle is a great role model. Sure, she’s awesome, but are cartoon characters really our standard for girls here?
Girls need to see other women succeeding in science and enjoying it. While there may be no one woman to fill in that gap for celebrity scientist status, there are so many amazing women out there celebrating science. Online, you can find The Brain Scoop hosted by Emily Graslie, The STEMulus hosted by Stephanie Evans, and videos by The Bug Chicks to inspire your girls at home. Also look around your community and family for role models in STEM. All it takes is one person to motivate your girls to keep on going when the going gets tough.
#5 – Have fun!
Last but not least, it is so important to chill out and really enjoy science for what it is sometimes. It’s hard enough to pass an algebra class in grade school, but wouldn’t you want your daughter to enjoy herself and make friends while she does it? It seems that these days As and 4.0s are the gold standard of success for kids. But honestly, it is just as important that kids find a passion for the science they study. The passion they develop for STEM is what will drive them to push forward in their careers, not the grueling nights spent studying alone. So don’t freak out over the occasional C on their tests, instead consider alternative ways to work on the material with your child.
What’s better than one scientist? TWO SCIENTISTS! One of the most valuable things gained from pursuing STEM fields is the friendship your daughter will find with girls that are like-minded and headed in the same direction. There is no room in STEM careers for women to fight each other for top positions, it hurts everyone. The same can be said in the classroom. Science is naturally a very competitive field, but do whatever you can to foster friendly study groups and activities outside of the classroom. The friends she makes now will greatly impact where she ends up later and some of those friendships are for life.
And there you have it! Do you already do some of these with the girls in your life? Is there a favorite tactic of yours we didn’t include in the list? Tell us in the comments!
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