Despite performing at similar levels to their male counterparts, girls’ confidence and interest in engineering and math decline during middle school – resulting in a major gender gap in professional STEM careers.
Unfortunately, the decline of interest is often due to a lack of exposure and encouragement. When growing up, boys tend to naturally be more exposed than girls to STEM-related activities such as computer programming, gaming and building things outside of school. Unconscious bias of the types of activities suited for boys and girls (e.g. boys should create and fix things and girls should be homemakers) is in part to blame for this.
So, what can we do to for our girls so they can discover whether or not a future in engineering or technology is right for them? The K-12 stage in life is significantly important for career motivation, as this is when girls first get exposed to and take an interest in STEM. Parents have the opportunity here to take an active role in influencing their girls and encouraging them to pursue their interest in science and technology.
One of the things that parents can do is enroll their girls in STEM clubs, camps and extra-curricular activities. NCWIT Aspirations in Computing, is a high school program you can join online and get connected with role models and other peers. Girls Who Code is another program to find other girls who are interested in computer science and doing things like coding. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), has programs like SWENext and events like Invent It. Build It. aimed to help girls at the K-12 level learn more about engineering, gain mentors and find resources to help them pursue a career in engineering. Activities and programs like these will play a key role in fostering young girls’ curiosity in the STEM fields.
It’s so important that we get young girls involved in STEM activities as early as possible. If girls gain confidence in STEM at a young age, they will have the confidence to pursue careers in STEM so we can have more gender equality in these industries. It’s up to parents and educators to get the ball rolling. Most women engineers will tell you they became an engineer because a parent or teacher saw something in them, told them what an engineer does and eventually encouraged them to become one. If there is potential, it’s up to these influencers to turn it into something successful.
Randy Freedman is Associate Director, Educational Programming at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the largest advocate for women in engineering and technology. Freedman is responsible for the design and implementation of engineering engagement programs and resources for a K-12 audience, including SWE’s annual event, Invent it. Build it.