As automation transforms the global workforce, workers with skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) will be in high demand in the labor market – and they’ll often make a lot more money, too. Unfortunately, girls still often lag behind in representation in STEM subjects due to stigma and cultural stereotypes that portray male students as naturally better at these subjects. If women are going to achieve an equal footing in these high-income, high-demand fields, educators will need to help girls achieve their STEM dreams.
Education researchers are hard at work developing ways to help young girls stay interested in STEM subjects and young women build careers in STEM. That’s because the benefits of a level playing field in technology will be huge.
From individual girls and women to science and industry as a whole, here are seven ways that improved STEM education for girls creates opportunities and breaks down barriers.
1. Encouraging girls to excel in STEM subjects helps break down gender stereotypes
Gender stereotypes are a big obstacle to girls and women entering STEM fields. Studies show that most people have cognitive biases that math is for boys and arts are for girls, even when they’re not fully aware that they hold these beliefs. It’s just one example of the many harmful stereotypes that restrict women’s choices in entering the workforce. The only way to break down these barriers is by attacking them head-on to create a cultural sea of change regarding how women and STEM are perceived. That can happen in many ways, ranging from science camps for girls to changing the way we talk about women and STEM, but it’s clear that it needs to happen–one way or the other.
2. People with STEM degrees gain a wider variety of high-paying career choices
A degree in a STEM subject creates a great deal of value and can help a person significantly boost their earnings. STEM jobs are growing significantly faster than most other fields and, in most cases, they’re the jobs least likely to be eliminated by automation any time soon. Opening these fields up to women is essential to ensure that the jobs of the future are equitably distributed, and the first step is to make it clear from the beginning that STEM is for anybody who’s interested in it and ready to work hard, regardless of gender.
3. STEM education can help young people feel more comfortable using new technologies
Raising a child as a lifelong learner with a solid grounding in STEM subjects can help them feel more comfortable with adapting to technological advances – a key trait for success in the information economy. Something as simple as helping a girl learn to use a microscope at a young age can foster a lifelong love for technology and a curiosity about how things work. That kind of curiosity and appetite for learning serves a young person well in a world that’s constantly being revolutionised by the appearance of new technologies.
4. STEM education encourages children to become problem-solvers
It’s hard to overstate the value of independent critical thinking and problem-solving in a child’s development, and STEM education creates a strong foundation for these skills. STEM encourages children to use the tools available to them, put a problem under a microscope (literally or figuratively), think critically and grow in all of the other key skills that will help them navigate problems far beyond the classroom – and which are crucial for healthy development in children of any gender.
5. STEM gives girls and women the tools with which they can change the world
Like most kids (particularly in the younger generations growing up right now), young girls say that they want to change the world, and a career in STEM is a great way to do that. In fact, women have already made many huge contributions to science and technology, and they’re sure to make more. However, these contributions and advances can only happen if women and girls are inspired, supported and encouraged in their aspirations to enter STEM fields. Early education is critical in laying the groundwork for a successful career, and it starts with the encouragement of curiosity.
6. Hiring a diverse workforce helps businesses recruit better talent, stand out more and be more responsive
The gender imbalance in STEM fields isn’t just bad for women – it’s bad for the economy as a whole. The labor market for tech talent will never be as strong as it could be until it includes the many brilliant women who aspire to make their mark on the hard sciences. In addition, research has clearly demonstrated that there are numerous benefits to hiring a diverse workforce. Hiring more female engineers means an increased ability to cater to the enormous consumer power of women in the marketplace, and corporate diversity in general is associated with improved problem-solving, making STEM education for girls a true win-win proposition.
7. More women with STEM degrees serve as role models and create a virtuous cycle that helps more girls enter the field
With women still seriously underrepresented in many STEM fields, it can be hard for a young woman to visualise and pursue success. Studies indicate that when women in STEM have female peers to support them, they’re less likely to drop out of doctoral programs. Better STEM education for girls helps build a critical mass of women in tech who can help create a long-term leveling of the playing field that benefits everyone.
The future of science and technology is as bright as we work to make it, and these benefits show us that it looks much brighter when people of all genders are sharing the benefits of a booming STEM field. We’ve still got a long way to go to achieving gender equality in the workforce, and every teacher who encourages a young girl to pursue her interest in computers, math or life sciences helps chip away at the wall just a little bit more.
Author: Cheryl Stevens
Cheryl Stevens is the Community Relations Specialist for AmScope. She oversees all company-wide outreach programs and initiatives. Her passion is helping others see the value in and implement STEM programs for children at an early age.