Let’s break the paradox!
Sally Ride, the 1st American woman to go to space has said, “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Women have long played an important role in scientific developments and discourse; however, this role has historically received relatively less recognition and coverage as compared to their male counterparts. In the past few years, the gender gap has reduced globally but there is still a long road ahead until parity. At the current rate, it will take 99.5 years to close this gap globally.
Our increased use of technology to collaborate, study and work and stay connected during the COVID-19 crisis has made us think about the importance of STEM training for girls in our schools. The success of female-led countries in handling the pandemic has shown how important women are to the status quo. It is no surprise, therefore, that the UN sees gender equality “not only as a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”
The underrepresentation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or what is called the STEM fields is a continual concern for social scientists and policymakers. The numbers tell a story: globally, only 8% of female students in higher education are enrolled in engineering, manufacturing, and construction, with only 5% in natural science, mathematics, and statistics, and a meager 3% in information and communications technology (ICT).
Pc – Google Images
We have no lack of talent or skill to justify the absence of women in STEM fields. In fact, it’s estimated that 3.5 million jobs will need to be filled by 2025.
Yet young girls remain underrepresented in STEM classes and often face tough barriers to entering STEM careers. These barriers include a lack of visible role models; persistent stereotypes about the STEM abilities of women and men; and broader challenges of gender discrimination and inequity in the workplace.
Why Does STEM Diversity Matter?
Increasing the participation of women in STEM is a global economic imperative. Till 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow 13% as compared to 9% for non-STEM jobs and new talent pools will need to meet the rising demand for skilled workers. An environment that values diverse perspectives can tap into new levels of creativity that are central to innovation.
As the World Economic Forum has pointed out, science and gender equality are imperative to reaching global sustainability goals. The pandemic has shown us that digital skills are critical in times of crisis. Almost 10 million children may never go back to school following the COVID-19 lockdown, according to a Save the Children Fund report. Girls’ education will suffer disproportionately as a result because they have to work or look after their siblings, for example. But, now we have a chance to turn the situation around and ensure that girls around the world not only have an education but can see a real future for themselves in STEM.
Science functions best when it considers a wide range of diverse perspectives. When scientific fields exclude women, they exclude talented future scientists, as well as fresh perspectives that could be used to approach old scientific problems. Diverse workplaces are also happier and more productive, suggesting that STEM organizations could do better for themselves by being more inclusive.
Bridging the STEM Gap…
- Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. Seeing women who work in STEM and technology helps remind girls they have a place in these fields if they want it.
- Girls want to be creative and have a positive impact on the world. Many don’t realize that STEM and computer science careers can give them exactly the opportunities they’re looking for!
- Girls who participate in STEM clubs and activities are more likely to say they will pursue STEM subjects later in their education. In addition to increasing access to STEM and CS clubs, we can bring the experiential learning that girls want into more classrooms.
- Girls who feel supported by teachers and parents show more interest in continuing with STEM and CS learning in the future.
- Girls are willing to work hard to succeed. So, we need to create environments where questions, discovery, and even failure are treated as positive parts of the learning process.
True solutions to closing the gender gap in STEM fields must work on multiple levels. Exclusion begins in childhood when young girls are discouraged from science and mathematics and encouraged to adopt more care-oriented work. In the home, parents should take care to remind their children that they can grow up to do anything that they want, while providing a wide range of opportunities for children to explore their interests, including those related to STEM, such as coding camps, Hackathons and science fairs.
There is a technology skills drought, and it is only going to get worse in the low-touch, the hi-tech economy we all find ourselves in if we don’t bring more women into the technology skills pool.
Empowering young girls with an interest in STEM and inspiring them to take up careers in technology are essential for innovation and long-term, sustainable economic growth.