The Gender-Equality Paradox in STEM

The 11th of February was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

An important day for promoting women and girls who have done and are doing great things in this field.

It’s a day that encourages us to reflect on what’s being done to promote STEM to girls and women, and to encourage discussion around the reasons why there are fewer women in STEM careers than men.

Gender-Equity in STEM Careers Does Not Exist

Globally women are less likely to enter and more likely to leave STEM careers than men.

For women, leave rates peak at about 10 years into their careers.

And it is their work experience during that time that has the most impact on their decision to leave.

Work experience factors that contribute to these leave rates include: workplace isolation, hostile male-dominated work environments, ineffective feedback and a lack of funding and sponsorship.

Maybe Girls Aren’t Interested In STEM

I recently read an interesting research paper which showed that although girls often perform similar to or better than boys in science subjects, that in countries with high levels of gender equality, STEM gaps in secondary and tertiary education are the largest in the world.

This was found to be particularly the case in Nordic countries, who are known as having the greatest gender equality.

The study claimed that in these countries there is less interest by females in pursuing STEM careers.

The study also found that countries that have less gender-equality and greater ‘life-quality pressures’ have higher levels of engagement with STEM subjects and careers.

This study suggested that when girls are not constrained by poverty or gender inequality they are less likely to choose STEM subjects at school or pursue STEM careers.

But is it really as simple as that?

Let’s Start Talking About Careers At An Early Age

Children start hearing about careers and the world of work informally from a young age.

This means that negative opinions, stereotyping and incorrect information about careers paths and qualifications can have a damaging effect.

STEM qualifications and careers are particularly susceptible to this.

Therefore we need to start having positive conversations about all careers and even qualifications as early as possible.

Educators and parents can start with the language they use to describe careers and professions as well as exposing children to inspiring men and women in a range of professions as soon as possible.

We Need To Be Talking More About STEAM Not STEM

If we are serious about getting more females interested in STEM, we need to start talking more about STEAM.

This might mean that educators need training.

STEAM only works if people have the capability and confidence to do so, and making assumptions that it’s easy to do, is naive.

The reality is that if we don’t start talking about STEM careers positively early on, exposing children to inspiring role models, and equipping educators to infuse art approaches into their STEM classes, we may not inspire more children, male and female to pursue these careers.


Published on: March 11, 2019


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