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Diversity in STEM

The Importance of Maintaining Girls’ Confidence in STEM

The National Inventors Hall of Fame®(NIHF) is committed to helping close the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields by introducing girls to inspiring female role models through our inspiring education programs.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2015 women held only 24 percent of STEM jobs in the United States despite representing over half of the college-educated workforce. Though qualified, many women may lack confidence in their ability to excel in STEM careers. Unfortunately, the development of this mindset begins at an early age.

Many Girls Begin to Lose Confidence Beginning at Age 12

A report from Ypulse research group and the authors of The Confidence Code for Girls found that today’s girls often experience low levels of confidence. Below are some of the study’s most troubling findings:

  • Around three in four teen girls worry about failing.
  • Between ages 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 percent.
  • Between their tween and teen years, girls’ confidence that other people like them falls from 71 percent to 38 percent — a 46 percent drop.
  • Between ages 12 and 13, the percentage of girls who say they’re not allowed to fail increases by 150 percent.

Ypulse also reports that while young girls and boys are equally likely to believe they will succeed in a STEM career, when girls enter their teen years, their confidence often stagnates and they begin to doubt their abilities.

To correct this troubling trend, it is crucial that educators and parents alike, provide girls with hands-on STEM experiences and exposure to inspiring women role models. These early experiences will help build confidence in STEM subjects and beyond. In addition, the process of designing and building, testing, failing and retesting will also help young women begin to realize that ‘failure’ is ok and is a necessary step on the path to success.

2016 NIHF Inductee Radia Perlman on Overcoming Adversity  

Though today Radia Perlman is praised for her invention of the Spanning Tree Protocol, a technology that is a key contribution to the development of the internet, there was a time when Perlman had her doubters. 

In a video celebrating her induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Perlman explains that some of her colleagues believed that the creation of Ethernet technology made her earlier work on routing links obsolete.

“When Ethernet came out I said, ‘this is a new type of link and I have to modify the routing protocol,’ but you still need my layer to forward data, and they said ‘Oh Radia no one cares about your layer anymore.’”

Perlman did not allow the skepticism of others stop her from pursuing her ideas. Instead, she combined Ethernet technology with her Spanning Tree Protocol design, which led to some of the first large-scale internet networks!

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