STEM: Engineering the Future for Women in Science

March 2, 2015

Today’s world is a digital world, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.  In fact, the world is only going to become more interconnected, with the global economy heavily dependent on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  Over the past 10 years, STEM jobs grew 3 times faster than non-STEM jobs, and they are projected to continue to grow by 17% through 2018, compared to 9.8% for all other occupations.

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While STEM is growing by leaps and bounds, so is women’s involvement in the work force. Today, 48% of the country’s work force is comprised of women; it’s more important than ever that we are preparing girls and young women with the skills they will need for a future in STEM.

At the Girl Scouts, we have been on the cutting edge of girl leadership development for over 100 years, helping girls acquire the skills they needed to lead their world.  Our Girl Scout Research Institute conducted an in-depth study about girls’ attitudes towards STEM called: Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

The study found that teenage girls love STEM. Some 74% of high school girls across the country are interested in STEM related subjects. Yet when you delve deeper into the numbers, you realize that although interest in STEM is high, few girls consider it their number one career choice. In fact, STEM careers don’t crack the top tier of career choices for young women.

There are several reasons for this.  Girls are acutely aware of the gender barriers – 57% say that if they went into a STEM field, they’d have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously.  The classroom is where girls receive the bulk of their exposure to STEM.

Unfortunately, we know that the classroom can also be an intimidating place, where girls sometimes succumb to peer pressures or stereotypes about girls in STEM.  In fact, our study found that 47% of girls say they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a school group focused on STEM.

So while record numbers of girls are expressing interest, too few are considering a STEM field for a career – and that’s a problem for everyone who cares about the future of our economy and our world. In order to create gender balance in the STEM workforce and foster the innovative thinking we will need to power our future, we need to actively encourage girls to pursue their interests and abilities in STEM.

Girl Scouting provides an out of school, all-girl environment where girls can be themselves – where they are uninhibited by the social pressures they can face in a formal, mixed-gender classroom environment – where they are free to experiment and explore.

We know that girls are more interested in STEM careers when they know how their work can help others.  We emphasize learning by doing and a cooperative learning environment because we know that, particularly with STEM, youth need to be hands-on, active learners.

In general, girls prefer a collaborative leadership style. The cooperative learning process gives girls the opportunity to develop leadership and STEM skills in a way that feels comfortable and natural for them.

So how can encourage STEM development among girls?                             

  • First: We must focus on elementary and middle school girls. 
  • Second: we must encourage partnerships with out of school and summer programsTaking STEM education out of the classroom and into the real world is so important for girls.
  • Third: More female role models in the STEM fields.
  • Fourth, we need adult involvement: parents, fathers especially, must encourage their daughters not to opt out of STEM careers just because they are girls. Nurture and encourage their development in these fields, and create an atmosphere where that interest is normal and expected.
  • And finally, we must continue evaluating national programs and partnerships to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to girls and STEM.

The message is clear: STEM is the future, and so are girls.

When girls engage, they have the capacity to change the world.  It is so important that we are making this crucial investment in girls in STEM.

To do so is to invest in the future of our economy, our country, and our world.