How can we encourage girls and women to be interested, study and work in science, technology and engineering?
Throughout history, the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have been shaped by gender biases that exclude women and girls. The unequal access to education, technology and leadership positions have alienated countless brilliant female minds from STEM careers and have stalled their progress.
The gender gap in science, technology and innovation translates to lost talent, untapped discoveries and biased solutions. Expanding access to education involves not only investments in infrastructure, but also connectivity improvements and ensuring schools have access to electricity, water, materials, and transportation. It also requires overcoming stereotypes, which begins at home with family education about the opportunities girls can have through education. Only when girls can see the possibilities of their future and have access to education can we achieve gender parity in science and technology.
Why is it important that more women participate in the STEM areas?
More female students and researchers (girls and women) in STEM lead to benefits for the development of societies:
1. Diversified research and work teams are more innovative and creative. Greater participation of women brings new perspectives.
2. The STEM labor market continues to grow and experiences shortages. Women make up roughly half of the human population. By systemically excluding women it is as though we are attempting to address shortages with one arm tied behind our back.
3. Scientific research that incorporates gender diversity tends to be more accurate. Considering the differences between women and men in the design of products and technology makes them more effective, efficient, and safe.
Supporting STEM female students and researchers (girls and women) is not only an essential part to innovate, educate and build; it is also important to the women themselves. Women in STEM jobs earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller pay gap compared to men. Therefore, this also improves the lives of families. Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step in achieving greater economic success and equality for women in all areas.
According to UNESCO, women represent only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related careers. However, there are differences in the disciplines that comprise STEM areas. For example, the participation of women in higher education in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) is 3%. In Latin America and the Caribbean, only 20% of workers in the energy sector are women.
Among the main reasons why girls stop showing interest in STEM are stereotypes, gender roles, expectations and lack of support from their families, teachers and peers, as well as the lack of role models and the little understanding of the application of STEM careers in the real world.
Actions to encourage girls and women to become interested, study and work in science, technology and engineering:
1. Help girls develop their confidence in STEM subjects. Skills in science and mathematics can be developed, are not gender-related, and are not hereditary. Motivating girls to put in effort and dedication is an important part of the learning process. Giving girls the opportunity and support so that they can grow and be what they decide they want to be, not what society expects them to be, is essential to change the stereotypes that often prevent girls from becoming interested in these areas.
2. Recognize, celebrate, and promote positive images of professional STEM women in families, schools and the media, so that girls can identify themselves with them.
3. Expose girls to hands-on experiences in STEM disciplines and show connection to real life, for example:
- carry out innovative experiments and practices, both at home and in schools, to develop linguistic, spatial and numerical skills;
- visit industries, projects and laboratories, ensuring that there is participation of women in technical and professional areas of the industry;
- offer girls programs to accompany professionals in the area for a day;
- show girls how STEM can change the world and the impact of these careers on the lives of people, the environment, and animals.
4. Be active mentors or link girls to mentoring. As teachers, parents, and relatives, we have a fundamental role in promoting girls to be interested in the topic, encouraging them to participate and developing in them positive attitudes towards STEM.
5. Promote and improve the participation, continuation, and completion of women in STEM careers and studies through:
- scholarships and research grants for women;
- support countries to offer education programs on gender-sensitive STEM subjects, in which teachers and students are trained on these topics, and curricular content is adapted to eliminate gender biases and encourage the participation of women;
- recruit teachers of both sexes;
- develop more attractive and practical STEM study programs;
- create inclusive learning and working spaces, where female opinions are valued and respected.
In the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) we are convinced that fostering an open and diverse scientific community, which is based on a variety of unique experiences and points of view, is a necessary step to achieve sustainable development in our region. Especially, an energy sector with more women will be a more innovative, productive, and inclusive one.
- Deciphering the keys: STEM education for women and girls
- Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
- Inspiring the next generation of female engineers | Debbie Sterling
- How to engage more girls in STEM?
 Microsoft did a special work for this: https://news.microsoft.com/features/why-do-girls-lose-interest-in-stem-new-research-has-some-answers-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/