Despite showing similar interest in STEM subjects compared to their male classmates in elementary school, when young girls grow up, a majority decide to pursue careers in non-STEM fields. As a result, in 2015 women comprised a mere 24 percent of the STEM workforce.
According to research from Microsoft, for female students, middle school can often act as an “off-ramp” and represent a time where girls lose confidence in their ability to succeed in STEM disciplines.
Below are three ways educators can combat this troubling trend and encourage girls to follow their passions.
Research from the Annual Review of Psychology found that gender stereotyping begins developing in children as early as age four. Unfortunately, the myth that boys are naturally better at math and science than girls are is one that refuses to go away. Despite study after study demonstrating that both genders possess equal capacity to excel at mathematics-related fields, media stories continue to spread narratives that promote the opposite. It’s important that educators dismiss these harmful stereotypes at an early age, and encourage girls interested in math and science to reject ideas that hold them back.
Prioritizing Hands-On Experience
One of the most effective ways to combat gender stereotyping and to boost the confidence of middle school girls interested in STEM is to incorporate and promote hands-on activities in and out of the classroom. The Microsoft study found that about four in 10 girls report that they do not get enough practical STEM experience. This lack of experience can often lead to a decrease in confidence, and it increases the likelihood that girls will listen to unproductive gender stereotypes. Instead, by participating in hands-on activities that bring these subjects to life, girls are able to experience tangible success and mitigate the high levels of anxiety that they might have toward STEM subjects.
Promoting Female STEM Role Models
The large gender gap that persists in many of today’s STEM jobs has made it difficult for girls to find relatable, STEM role models. This is problematic because in order to realize their potential, children need examples of those who have succeeded in fields that interest them. Fortunately, research from Opportunity Insights found that exposing girls to women inventors at a young age has the potential to reduce the gender gap in STEM fields by half. Because of this, educators should consider introducing female STEM role models into their classroom to inspire their students and show all children that they can achieve anything they put their mind to.
Our Commitment to STEM Equality
To solve the world’s most challenging problems, we need a wide range of ideas and solutions. We believe that any child interested in a career in STEM should feel capable of achieving their dream. At the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, we are committed to combatting our nation’s STEM gender gap by introducing students to our diverse, world-changing Inductees through our education programs, including Invention Project®, a middle school specific program that teaches students the business of innovation. To find out more, we encourage you to visit our website!