What We Can Do to Bridge the Gender Gaps in STEM

For many years, math and science have been perceived as a man’s field and scientists are predominantly male. However, the effect of gender image school on young people’s career choices has not yet been analyzed. Research suggested that gender-science stereotypes of math and science can potentially influence young women’s and men’s aspirations to enrol in STEM majors at university by showing that a less pronounced masculine image of science has the potential to increase the likelihood of STEM career aspirations.
Girls and women are tracked away systematically from math and science throughout their education which limits their training and options to go into these fields as adults. Women make up only about 28% of the workforce in STEM and men mostly outnumbered women in majoring in STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and high paying jobs of the future like engineering and computer science.
If we give women an equal opportunity to pursue and thrive in STEM careers, it helps narrow down the gender pay gap, improves women’s economic security and ensures a talented and diverse STEM workforce. It also helps in preventing biases in these fields and the services and products they produce.

Key factors Responsible for gender STEM gaps:

1. Gender stereotypes.

There is that notion that men are mathematically superior and innately suited to STEM fields than women. Researchers have found that girls and boys tend to have different cognitive strengths and weaknesses. In general, boys do better on tasks using spatial orientation and visualization and other quantitative tasks that rely on these skills. Girls, on the other hand, outperform boys on tests relying on verbal skills, especially writing, as well as some tests involving memory and perceptual speed.[1]
Many people consider spatial skills to be important for success in fields like engineering, although the connection between spatial abilities and success in STEM careers is not definitive.[2] But, whether or not spatial skills are necessary for success in science or engineering, research also shows that these skills can be improved with training.

2. Male dominated culture

Having the self-confidence and believing that you can succeed in STEM is important, but that is only one factor in establishing an interest in a STEM career. Culture and gender roles also influence career interests. Children, especially girls develop beliefs that they cannot pursue certain careers because it is inappropriate for their gender.
Women encountered a series of challenges at mid-career that made them leave their careers in the STEM industry. They cited feelings of isolation, an unsupportive work environment, unclear rules about advancement and success are some of the other factors that helped them made their decision to leave.
When women are acknowledged as successful in areas that are considered to be male territory, women are less well-liked and more personally derogated than equally successful men. Being disliked can have a lot of negative effects on career outcomes that lead to lower evaluation and lesser chances to receive awards. These results suggest that gender stereotypes can trigger bias in evaluating women in male-dominated environments, even though these women have proved themselves to be successful and have demonstrated their competence.

3. Fewer Role Models

Girls have fewer role models that inspire them to be interested in this field. There are only a few examples of female scientists and engineers that can be found in books, media and pop culture. There are even fewer role models for women of colour in math and science.
Encouragement received from significant people (family, schools, peers, and others) to pursue mathematics or technology-related studies plays a major role in whether adolescents decide to pursue a career in STEM domains or not.[3]

4. Math Anxiety

Teachers, who are mostly women, often have math anxiety that they pass on to their students, especially girls. They often grade girls harder for the same work, and they assume that girls need to work more to achieve the same level as boys.

5. Confidence Gap

Just not interested. Many girls and women say that they are just not interested in science and engineering. Even girls and women who excel in math and science do not pursue STEM fields. This lack of interest can also be related to self-confidence in STEM subjects which begins in middle school and increase in high school and college. Girls report being less confident than boys in math and science abilities.
Students who lack confidence in their math or science skills are less likely to engage in tasks that require those skills and will quickly give up in the face of difficulty. Girls and women are especially vulnerable to losing confidence in STEM areas.

What can we do to bridge the STEM Gap:

1. Give girls and women the skills and confidence to succeed in math and science

● Raising awareness that girls and women are as capable with boys when we give them encouragement and educational opportunities.● Promote public awareness to parents and the role they play in encouraging their daughters like they would with their sons in math and science. Parents should support learning opportunities and give positive messages about what their daughters can do.● Teach girls, teachers and parents that math skills can be learned and change over time.● Show more strong role models of women and women of color in math and science fields.

2. Improve STEM education and support girls starting in early education to K12.

● Provide professional education to teachers● Encourage girls and women to take math and science classes, including advanced classes● Ensure that every student is exposed to engineering and computer science● Change how classes are taught by connecting STEM experience to girl’s lives, promoting hands-on, collaborative, community- oriented and active learning.● Teach girls of color math through an open-ended co-created problem posing and discovery● Expand after school and STEM opportunities for girls● Increase awareness of higher education and career opportunities, pathway opportunities, role models and mentoring programs

3. Work to attract, recruit and retain women into STEM majors and fields in colleges and universities.

● Design courses and change environments in STEM studies so it can be more welcoming for women● Give priority to diverse, inclusive and respectful environments and strong diverse leadership● Disperse hierarchal and dependent relationships between trainees and faculty, changing the power dynamics● Make everyone in the academic community responsible for reducing and preventing sexual harassments● Promote mentorship, sponsorship network and incorporate male ally programs

4. Improve job hiring, retention and promotion pathways and inclusive cultures.

● Employ women employees and work to retain and promote women throughout their careers with pipelines and provide continued professional development and leadership training● Promote a welcoming environment, with pay equity, flexibility, strong family and medical leave policies; inclusion and anti-bias training, mentorship, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies

What can we do as parents?

The solutions written above are solutions based on research. It is quite overwhelming to see just how much we need to improve in most areas of life to bridge the gender gaps not just in STEM fields but almost all male-dominated fields.
As parents, we are the first ones who need to make the adjustments to begin a change in the system. There is a lot we can do to help and one of them is to encourage our daughters by making them do activities that focus on math and science.
Here at Skill Samurai, we help boys and girls discover and enhance their passion for STEM. We believe that by teaching and equipping them with 21st-century skills like coding for kids, we are ensuring them a better career where they can thrive in the future.
Enrol your daughters in our coding courses now. Start today.

Sources:[1] Hedges & Nowell, 1995; Kimura, 2002; Halpern, Aronson, et al., 2007x[2] (Ceci et al., 2009)[3] Sáinz and Eccles, 2012; Eccles, 2015)