By Ashley Pereira, MS Ed.
Women represent about half of all workers in the United States economy, yet they hold less than 25 percent of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – statistics that have remained stubbornly stagnant throughout the past decade (US Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, 2011). According to the US Department of Labor, women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs, but are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation (2014). And it is not just a problem in the United States; women are vastly underrepresented in STEM careers around the world. AUnited Nations study conducted in 14 countries found that only 18 percent of science degrees earned are by women, compared with 37 percent by male students.
While tremendous opportunity exists in STEM, women are not fully represented in these 21st century fields. Much progress has been made in recent years, yet much work remains to engage girls in STEM. Fortunately, an increasing number of options are becoming available to help girls get involved in STEM. From after-school programs to online communities, there are plenty of resources to help females of all ages get the support and inspiration they need to succeed in STEM.
Here are five ways to promote women in STEM in your classroom:
Free Online Resources
As the availability of technology continues to expand rapidly, many resources specifically geared to females are being offered. One example is SciGirls, a website that offers candid video interviews with real female STEM professionals, as well as hands-on activities for girls across a wide variety of disciplines. Another, Techbridge Girls, provides online training and resources to encourage and support girls in STEM. As a third example, the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women and girls in information technology, has programs and resources that encourage women and girls to enter the field of IT. A simple google search yields hundreds of free online resources to promote women in STEM in your classroom, with the number of available materials increasing daily.
After School Programs and Clubs
Exposure to and engagement in STEM from a young age is crucial to future involvement and interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. To introduce and encourage girls in STEM, many after school programs exist. As an example, Girl Scouts is just one of the many STEM after school programs available to girls. Found in nearly every city in America, the Girl Scouts recently launched new STEM-specific badges to focus on twenty-first-century skills and engage girls in STEM-specific activities through the naturalist badge, innovation badge, and many more. Regardless of location, online clubs and summer camps are another option becoming increasingly popular to build interest in the minds of girls who otherwise would have difficulty accessing STEM enrichment programs. Online enrichment programs such as Career Explorersexpose girls to diverse STEM careers and connect them with women in STEM, all from the comfort of home!
Colleges and universities across the United States and abroad are making a concerted effort to increase female enrollment in STEM fields. Thus, many scholarships exclusively in support of women entering science, technology, engineering, and math majors are available. A search through a popular online scholarship database such as Fastweb yields many female-specific scholarships. Another scholarship resource for women is Nitro College, which lists scholarships such as the ‘Women Techmakers Scholars Program’ and the ‘Women in Aviation International Scholarship.’ Scholarship opportunities for women in STEM are increasingly available, ensuring that females will be equitably represented in tomorrow’s STEM workforce.
As the old adage states, ‘seeing is believing’. Many girls lack female role models in STEM, and thus are not aware of what various STEM professions entail. One remedy to this situation is the integration of female STEM professionals from your local community within the classroom. Do you have a Science Fair coming up? Enlist the help of female STEM professionals to serve as judges, then invite them to share a few words about what they do at the end of the Science Fair. Need a simple activity for your upcoming Career Day? Invite a panel of female STEM professionals in to field questions from students about their experiences. These are just two ideas to bring local STEM professionals into your classroom. In doing so you will be exposing female students to potential mentors in their community (further discussed below) as well as broadening their perspectives as to types of STEM careers that exist.
According to Balaji Ganapathy, Founder of Million Women Mentors, only 41% of women who enter the STEM workforce are still within a STEM profession ten years later. To combat this attrition from STEM professions among women, it is necessary to create a pathway to and through STEM careers beginning from a young age. Through mentorships, girls can be connected to women in STEM, beginning as early as preschool. As students get older, mentors can help answer questions about potential careers, share candid advice and experiences, and connect girls with resources needed to succeed in STEM.
It is imperative that young girls and women take advantage of all possible resources in STEM to further their career. The future success of women in STEM fields lies in the present; building interest of young girls in STEM early in their educational experience, continuously identifying and removing barriers to growth, and providing ample access to STEM scholarships and other essential resources to help each and every woman achieve her true STEM potential.
About the Author:
Ashley Pereira began her career as an inner-city science teacher, and is now adjunct Professor of Science Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, as well as Founder and CEO of Career In STEM®. She is blessed to work with clients throughout the world to provide diversifying STEM experiences, obtain grant funding, and implement innovative STEM and CTE programs.