One insecurity I often think about is my shaky foundation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. I didn’t grow up with a sustained interest in Legos or RC (remote controlled, radio controlled) cars. I was always busier perfecting my nail art skills, sloppy designing my next dream haute couture dress, and making anything and everything. My interests expanded as I got older, but I became more self-conscious and regretted the childhood hobbies I filled my downtime with, feeling more and more that the activities I I liked were feminine and “non-engineered”.
While these activity choices should not inherently limit anyone’s capacity or suitability for their profession or interests, the fact that I often doubted the validity of my interests and identity threatened my chances of remaining in a STEM profession. Our company consistently differentiates between girls’ and boys’ activities – a quick Google search for “toys for boys” brings up “robots and robotic pets”, “vehicle, trains and remote control toys” and “building sets and blocks” while the first eight results in the search for “toys for girls” mean either “dolls”, “accessories” or “clothes”. Whether girls really have these preferences or not, society has long viewed girls’ interests and activities through a certain lens – which does not fit strongly with our society’s description of an engineer/scientist – and it has become increasingly important to instill a level of confidence in girls to continue making these stereotype-busting choices once they identify STEM as a potential interest.
So what can we do to eliminate these doubts in women in STEM? How can we instill confidence in them that who they are becoming and what interests them is extremely valuable and valuable? How to help them forge an identity that should not undermine the validity of their choice to embark on the STEM profession?
We can facilitate this through a number of initiatives.
Extracurricular STEM programs in early life have been cited as a technique to increase the number of women majoring in STEM disciplines. These STEM programs have the freedom to take many forms, as they must focus on a wide range of early ages; between the ages of 6 and 18, girls’ interest in STEM falls from 66% to 4%. Additionally, research shows that subject choices by class peers affect girls’ preference for STEM subjects; when their female peers do not have a preference for STEM subjects, other girls are less encouraged to display these preferences for fear of violating gender norms. Not only do these after-school programs allow girls to perform better in STEM because they expose them to these subjects earlier, but learning about these communities can also help them know and believe they belong.
Breaking the stereotype is uncomfortable: most girls make the choice to move away from STEM subjects when they see more boys choosing STEM activities. Some girls will even “underperform at tasks where they have to ‘think like scientists’” because they already associate scientific thinking with a masculine trait. Girls as young as 6 start to have ideas that STEM is for men; Exposing them to communities of other girls who choose STEM can help combat this misconception. Some programs include Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing the number of women in IT, and STEM for Her, a nonprofit foundation promoting education and providing girls with opportunities to pursue successful careers. related to STEM. These programs have proven to be highly effective in influencing undergraduate majors down the line – Girls Who Code reported that its participants studied computer science in college at 15 to 16 times the national average.
Adult education that has a significant impact on a child’s early years can also help build a girl’s sense of belonging in STEM fields. A large percentage of adults harbor a number of biases, such as believing that STEM subjects like math require natural ability and are fixed skills. Additionally, parents unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes when they overvalue their sons and undervalue their daughters, unconsciously choose to process praise more often (a type of praise that emphasizes hard work, effort, or a child’s actions) on their sons and believe that daughters should try harder. than their sons to succeed in subjects such as mathematics. Considering a 2013 study that found that parents’ praise of 1- to 3-year-olds was predictive of their children’s motivational frameworks five years later, interactions between young adults appear to have provided strong contributions to gender disparity in STEM.
Additionally, the impact of more female role models cannot be overlooked. The fact that STEM roles are often portrayed as male jobs or associated with a more male-dominated culture and activities may deter women from discovering a passion for STEM or considering a sustained interest in themselves. . Personally, inspiring female role models have played a huge role in keeping me in STEM, from Gwynne Shotwell to Hedy Lamarr, especially because I got to see more of my various passions represented in their work, reminding me that I am as much an engineer like the boy next to me. This feeling is usually true for other girls; when girls come into contact with female role models in STEM, and more broadly, people they can relate to, their self-image in STEM, their attitude towards STEM, and their motivation to pursue careers in STEM STEM improve.
It’s a shame that a boy playing with his toys can be seen as an inquisitive child with an aptitude for DIY and problem solving, when all the times I’ve diagnosed my sewing machine in order to continue my fashion projects were considered a female pastime. While it will take generations to combat the years of subtle reinforcement of gender stereotypes in STEM, preparing a girl early for STEM can give her the confidence and knowledge to support her STEM choices and give her the best possible chance. to stay true to her. professional dreams.