STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and covers a diverse and wide range of subjects including the sciences (physics, chemistry, biology), statistics, mathematics, computer science, astronomy, robotics and psychology. STEM education is crucial as all these subjects are an integral part of our daily lives and survival, and for the economic and technological growth of countries. STEMbased occupations are increasing exponentially with certain jobs in constant high demand. These include cyber security, mechanical and civil engineering, environmental engineering, software development and actuarial science.
There are more women studying for STEM-based degrees than men; but less than 30% of the STEM workforce is female. Stem and Gender Advancement (SAGA) is a UNESCO-led project to reduce the gender gap in STEM at all levels of education and research and increase the visibility, participation and respect of women in STEM, amongst other important initiatives. STEM subjects are the base of jobs of the future and are ever increasing. Gender diversity is achievable, and parents and educators must make the effort to encourage girls to learn and enjoy these subjects.
Breaking the sociocultural influence
Culture plays an important role in shaping our children’s future and influences education choices. We still live in a stereotypical world where STEM is for boys and HEED (Health, Elementary, Education and Domestic) is for girls. Children are exposed to differentiation from the beginning of their education, which widens the gender gap in STEM education as well as the workforce. In classrooms, students are made to believe that brilliance comes with hard work for girls and natural ability for boys, which can lead to girls losing confidence in their abilities.
When female students were asked, they concluded that they were more likely to lean towards science and business subjects, rather than mathematics and technology. As we push towards an equal society, teenagers should be exposed to various fields of studies and not be restricted by these stereotypes. We want to build confidence in girls to do what they want to do. If they like physics or mathematics, they should be strongly encouraged to pursue a degree in that field. “The world is definitely changing. You see more women taking these subjects,” commented an English Language student we spoke to. “Girls are generally more disciplined when it comes to studying, so they excel at STEM subjects when they take them up.”
Contribution to the world of STEM
It seems incongruous that there should even be a discussion about encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects when there have been so many female scientists, engineers and mathematicians who have achieved greatness in their field. Without these STEM superheroes we wouldn’t have Kevlar, computer software, the windscreen wiper, the dishwasher and the life raft. The genders shouldn’t be competing to see who’s the smartest or the best in maths, but rather collaborating and looking to create solutions for the betterment of everyone.
Bridge the wage gap
By having more girls join the STEM workforce, the wage gap will reduce. We are constantly bombarded by news of male colleagues getting promotions and climbing the career ladder faster than female colleagues. On average, women earn approximately 80% of what a man does in the same position; within STEM fields, that figure improves marginally. A lot still needs to be done and if more women carry on with their interest STEM, this gap can and will decrease.
Exposure to STEM
Exposure to STEM is imperative from a young age. Parents play a crucial role in encouraging their daughters to take an interest in subjects like the sciences and technology. Encourage them to think out of the box and solve problems resourcefully. Show them how a car engine works, how a bridge is built, how bats communicate through echolocation or how coding creates the apps they love so much. Visit science and technology centres, and most importantly make it fun! Mentorship Women who work in STEM fields must inspire girls to get interested and pursue these subjects. Teachers should highlight all the amazing female scientists, engineers and mathematicians who have contributed to society. This creates a chain reaction and empowers the next generation to go against the grain.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win it twice and most incredibly, the only person to win in two different sciences – chemistry and physics. And to think she did this in an era when women were not expected to do much besides getting married and having children. A true STEM superhero, she once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Sound advice for future STEM girls!