Five ways to encourage STEM with girls
Six years ago I wrote a blog championing positive change for girls through engagement in STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. At that time, the trend for women graduating with STEM degrees had experienced a significant decline from the previous decade. Unfortunately, this trend has not improved much in 2021. According to the World Economic Forum, only three percent of students joining information and communication technology (ICT) courses globally are women. This statistic improves slightly to five percent for math and statistics courses. Engineering, manufacturing and construction courses enjoy only a slight increase to eight percent.
In 2015 my daughters were entering that critical time in middle school when girls discover lipstick, boys and social media – and STEM tends to lose its cool factor with girls. Next month, my eldest daughter will graduate from high school and plans to major in medicine. My other daughter is not far behind her. As I reflected upon my personal experience, struggling to convince my girls to take extra math and science courses, I considered what worked and what didn’t work on the path to sparking continued interest in STEM-related subjects. Below are the key lessons I’ve learned in the six years since my last blog, my top five recommended ways to encourage STEM with girls:
- Increase access to STEM opportunities. Summer camps are one way to increase exposure. My daughters participated in both the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and Duke TIP programs for middle school aged kids in the US that opened the world of advanced mathematics, psychology and cryptology. If summer camps are not feasible, schools and local communities often offer science and math clubs, and I highly suggest participation in the science fair. Many universities offer virtual camps covering web game design, introduction to graphic design, 3D CAD for product design, augmented reality for social media, and much more for 14- to 18-year-olds. Mention multiple STEM areas to explore her interests – she might surprise you.
- Lead by example. If you eschew technology, she will pick up on this. Take the time to show her she can do this, and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Give her the opportunity to figure out how to replace paper in the printer. Ask her to reset the router when the Wi-Fi goes down. Allowing her to engage with technology in a non-stressful way builds confidence. Don’t be disheartened if she doesn’t show interest the first time around. Try re-introducing the subject later.
- Invite questions. Encourage her natural curiosity and support her interests. I learned to not overexplain or lecture my girls. If I did, they would immediately disengage, sometimes with an eyeroll. It’s a tricky balance. I found it best to ask open-ended questions, then sit back and listen. For example, ‘What do you think the person who invented the dishwasher/bicycle/loudspeaker was thinking when they first came up with these ideas?’
- Point out real-life examples. Show her STEM in action so she sees the benefits and impact. For younger kids, baking is a great way to incorporate math by measuring ingredients and discussing science while observing the chemical changes that occur when food is heated. When bringing your teen to the doctor’s office, mention how curious minds recognized a need for a blood pressure machine or other medical equipment, and how they explored ways to solve those problems. I had to correct my daughter – no, the TV show Grey’s Anatomy is not a real-life example of STEM!
- Help her find a role model. Sometimes girls can be more receptive to speaking with someone outside their immediate household. Encourage her to speak with a successful friend or teacher working in STEM. My eldest daughter loved her chemistry class and discovered a mentor in her teacher, a recent graduate. My daughter could picture herself in a similar role, and this positively impacted her opinion of science.
I am proud to work at Nokia because our diversity and inclusion programs as well as our top leaders demonstrate the commitment to having a workplace where both men and women have equal opportunities to succeed in every function and at every level. Our essential guiding principles for our ways of working are all about being open, fearless, and empowered. This is the right type of environment for women and men to flourish in the workplace. Now we need to ensure that the pipeline of female talent increases by encouraging our daughters, nieces, and other young women in our lives about the excitement and impact a STEM career can have.
I welcome your ideas on how to spark interest of STEM with girls by joining the discussion on Twitter with @Nokia using #WomenInTech #WomenInSTEM #GirlsInICT #GirlsInSTEM #diversity #GenderEquality #IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge #TeamNokia