Girls and STEM Careers

I was recently playing with blocks with my one and a half year old son and was impressed by how focused and intent he was on stacking the blocks and trying to build something. Then I watched my husband play with him, and how engrossed he was in building, as he liked to call it, a solid structure. He would build a 3D structure with a solid base and I examined this structure and realized that, whenever I picked up the blocks and played with my son, I would usually find myself building a linear tower. I tended to focus more on ensuring that the colours of the blocks lined up nicely and the tower looked esthetically pleasing.

To each her own, as they say, but this little play activity really opened my eyes.

How do we socialize more young girls to build solid structures? How do we socialize them to want to pick up the blocks and build something amazing?

Do we even want to do this? Is it even a problem?

It is a potential problem only in the sense that we know that women are not earning as much as their male counterparts. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women working full time earned only 82% of their male peers’ earnings, on average. And this was just one year out of college, and doesn’t likely factor in things like maternity leave.

There are many factors at play here, but exposing more young girls to traditional male occupations might help us narrow this gap.

But how do we do this?

My dad tried his hardest to encourage me to enter the field of Computer Science. I can still hear his voice in my head “that’s where all the jobs are, dear.” He strongly recommended I take the Computer Programming course in high school. So I did. I gave it a shot because he persuaded me, and I could see his logic. But much to his dismay, I didn’t like it.

But why didn’t I like it?

Does socializing girls to take different non-traditional career path start earlier than this? What if he had encouraged me to build more solid structures as a toddler? Would I have been interested in doing this? I remember having Lego blocks as a kid, and I do remember playing with them, but I played “barbies” much more often.

So what can we do to encourage young girls to enter STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, math)? It seems to me that, for one thing, we need to ensure these learning opportunites are available to girls during the formative early years of their lives.

Does it come down to role models? Marissa Mayer, current Yahoo! CEO, might help enhance the profile of women in technology. She quickly rose through the ranks and emerged as a young success story in the tech world, having been recently appointed CEO of Yahoo!

Or do many women just have that naturally-ingrained nurturing, people-centered, humanistic touch that they need, or prefer, to fulfill? With these being such positive qualities, why would we want to discourage this and steer them in a different direction? For example, I’d hazard a guess that many men aren’t inclined to ponder this exact question in such depth as I am right now. These are important questions and we can’t undermine the importance of women’s gender typical roles.

But I suppose it comes down to ensuring opportunities are available for young women to explore careers that are not traditionally “marketed” to them.

Here is my take on the top 7 things we can do to open doors to STEM careers for young women…

  1. Role models. Increase young women’s exposure to positive, successful, female role models in STEM careers. Share news stories, online articles, and personal stories and connections with our young girls.
  2. Learning opportunities. Ensure young girls are exposed to toys and games and early learning experiences that can develop the type of skills that would facilitate a career in the STEM field. Blocks, puzzles, and computer games. Give them a variety of options to allow them to explore all kinds of learning experiences.
  3. Mentorship. Match young girls up with other women who have chosen a STEM path. If they discover things they have in common with these women, they will be able to imagine and envision themselves in these types of roles.
  4. Exposure, exposure, then more exposure. With the number of STEM job options that are out there, as long as they are encouraged to explore and learn more about these options, young girls are bound to find something that clicks.
  5. Build self-confidence and self-efficacy for skills and tasks that might not be traditionally female. This could be as simple as having your daughter help do repair work around the house.
  6. Fulfill multiple “selves.” Look at the full picture of your daughter’s strengths. One might be nurturing and caring for others, but another might be solving numerical problems. Encourage the development of both of these skills and make sure she knows she can have a career that encompasses both.
  7. Take a career assessment and explore the full range of jobs. We’ve developed the Jackson Career Explorer (JCE) to showcase hundreds of different jobs, many of which fall within the STEM designation. Encourage young girls to explore what a typical day looks like in a STEM career and what knowledge, skills, abilities, values, and interests are typical of individuals who occupy these jobs. Knowledge is power.

For more on this topic, read this article.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

5 thoughts on “Girls and STEM Careers

  1. […] previous post focused on brainstorming solutions on how we, as a society, can do our best to encourage young […]

  2. […] STEM careers are in demand (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). This has been a hot topic […]

  3. Andrea says:

    This was a really cool blog. I never really pushed the doll thing on my kids but I have a little girl who loves barbies. I wonder if the decision to choose STEM jobs is more indicative of personality. Also, I think in some ways we condition our children to abide by our stereotypes. That’s one of the many reasons why some daycares are choosing child-led play, where the children can explore different interests. Are there any longitudinal studies being performed on different influences imposed on young children that affect career choice?

  4. Thank you for your insightful comments, Andrea. And thank you for providing me with material for a future blog post…I will have to do a lit search on your research question and let you know my findings in a future post. Stay tuned…

  5. […] months back, a reader asked the following question (thanks […]

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