While women make up half of the workforce in the United States, they currently hold less than 25 percent of jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). To close this gender gap, adults must make these subjects not only cool, but also relatable. STEM careers are achievable, regardless of gender, and women have the power to build a stable, rewarding future.
Inspiring girls to study STEM should start at a young age. However, a lasting impact requires both physical and emotional support from both parents and teachers. It’s more than what you do or say—it’s how you say it. Here are some points to keep in mind:
Let’s face it; movies and television shows rarely depict women in STEM fields. And the few times they do, their appearance is skewed toward “geek” or “sexy scientist.”
However, pop culture is making strides toward accurately representing women in STEM and showing more capable, confident scientists. For example, current middle or high school-aged girls might see themselves in Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson—the characters in Hidden Figures— or even aspire to be them one day. The work of Johnson and her colleagues directly contributed to John Glenn’s space endeavors.
Younger girls might get a burst of inspiration from watching TV shows like Doc McStuffins. The Disney Junior hit features an African-American girl named Dottie who plays veterinarian to her collection of stuffed animals. “Doc” has ignited a few fashion trends as well, most notably her white doctor’s coat and medical tools. Girls can take their Doc (and science) obsession a step further by playing online games and activities.
Conducting experiments, both in the classroom and at home, gives girls the opportunity to explore and question how things actually work. Experiments encourage risk-taking and problem-solving, two skills that improve with practice.
But rather than dictate the project, invite her to select an experiment or activity in a topic of interest. From there, ask questions: Why do you think this happened? What can you do differently next time?
Another way to foster a love of STEM is by visiting science centers and joining hands-on exhibits. The interactive nature of children’s museums encourages discovery and exploration, all while teaching how STEM concepts exist in the world.
Along with hands-on experiments, introduce her to a successful woman currently working in a STEM field. A mentor can help transform the stereotype of the nerdy computer scientist into a more accurate representation of a STEM professional. Depending on her age, a visit to a mentor’s office or lab will paint a more accurate picture of what it looks like to be a woman in a STEM field.
As parents or educators, perhaps the most meaningful action you can take is encouraging your daughter’s interest and participation in science, technology, engineering or math. With that understanding, parents must follow up with questions about math and science classes, and educators should support daily projects and foster curiosity in the classroom.
STEM fields hold tremendous opportunity for women at all stages of life—from childhood education through adulthood. By spurring an interest at a young age, girls have the ability to explore STEM throughout their adolescent years and affirm a lifelong passion. It’s up to parents and educators to support their endeavors and inspire the next generation of STEM leaders.
Guest author: Scott Rhodes, Vice Provost of Enrollment
With an 18-year background in higher education, Scott Rhodes leads enrollment and recruitment strategies for Florida Polytechnic University. His responsibilities encompass undergraduate admissions, graduate enrollment and enrollment marketing, financial aid, student records and registration and enrollment market research.