How would you rate your science knowledge? Think you'd do well on a science quiz? How you answer may depend on whether you are male or female. If you're female, you may think you aren't that good at science.
Is that because boys are better at science than girls? NO!
In fact, women and men (and girls and boys) are both equally capable in all STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).
So what's the critical factor? Confidence.
There are many studies showing that women underestimate their abilities in science, and this lack of confidence affects their willingness to pursue STEM subjects and careers. This can start as early as age 6!
A Cornell/Washington State University study gauged confidence in both male and female college students. The students were given a science quiz, but first asked to rate themselves on scientific ability on a scale of 1 to 10. Women said 6.5; men 7.6.
After the quiz, they were asked how well they thought they did. Women said they thought they got 5.8 out of 10 questions right, men figured about 7.1.
So how'd they really do? Turns out, their scores were very close. Women got 7.6; men 7.9.
So what can you do to help boost the confidence of the young girls in your life?
Here are five things we, as parents, can do to set the stage for raising STEM-confident girls.
Okay, this one hit home for us, so we had to start here.
If you've visited a large toy store recently, you'll notice that there are specific "boy" sections and "girl" sections. Girls get pink princess dolls and makeup kits, and boys get connector sets and exploding volcanoes.
Science kits are usually marketed to boys, with pictures of boys on the boxes and a blue color scheme. And they're usually shelved in the boy section of the store.
A simple Google image search for 'science kits for girls' brings up a barrage of beauty labs and spa kits. This kind of messaging tells girls that real science is not for them, and reinforces the idea that science is 'a boy thing'.
These kinds of hands-on toys expose girls to engineering, coding, building and experimenting early, so when girls encounter STEM topics later in school they'll think: "I know that, I can do that, I'm good at that."
So tell girls that science is for them by surrounding them with toys and projects that challenge gender stereotypes.
Sports are a great way to burn energy and develop social skills, but there's another benefit that may not be so obvious. Though winning is the goal, losing can actually be a good thing!
In a world where girls feel pressure to be perfect, learning to shrug off failure can help prepare them for the real world.
Being able to own it when she wins, but knowing that life goes on when she loses, can help her feel less intimidated to take on "hard" subjects, like science and math. If she get the answer wrong, she'll have the grit to try again. No big deal.
After 1972 Title IX legislation, studies showed that girls who played on team sports were more likely to graduate from college, secure a job, and work in traditionally male industries.
Confidence isn't thinking you won't fail, it's not being afraid of set-backs.
Have you seen Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad? The video follows one girl growing up being told "Don't get dirty." "Be careful with that." "Why don't you hand that to your brother." Subtle statements like this can discourage girls from pursuing STEM subjects in school and beyond.
Studies show that both teachers and parents give more attention to boys than girls in math.
And in museums, parents explain science concepts to boys three times more than to girls.
So, take her to your local science museum for some hands-on play. Go out of your way to ask her how many legs that insect has, if she wants to help repair the fence, or to calculate the cost of two boxes of her favorite cereal.
Incorporating math and science into your every day life will build her confidence and show her that she can do it!
Remember that video of British school kids who were asked to draw a firefighter, a surgeon, and a fighter pilot? Of the 66 pictures the kids drew, only 5 of them were women. The children were shocked when a real firefighter, surgeon, and fighter pilot walked in and they were all women!
For girls to think they belong in traditionally male jobs, they need to see women in those jobs. This will help them realize, "If they can do it, I can do it."
Know any female scientists, engineers or FBI agents? Take your child on a tour of their workplace. Or ask them to visit to your child’s classroom to give a presentation.
Reading the stories of real women in science is another great way to expose girls to the important role that women have played in science throughout history. Some great book recommendations:
Don't forget movies and TV shows, too!
Stories about girls solving puzzles, being detectives, and using their brains are popping up everywhere.
Check out comic books like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur...
Anthologies like Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets...
Or shows like Project Mc² (on Netflix), PBS's SciGirls, and the rebooted Magic School Bus (coming soon to Netflix!).