Why Don't We Have Enough Girls in STEM?
You are probably aware of the underrepresentation of females in STEM in Australia. Despite the technological advancement and the support being provided to females to choose science-based streams, the gender gap is still big and is slowly creeping up. Only 16% of university and VET graduates are female in the fields of STEM.
Australia loses female talent at every stage of the STEM pipeline despite no innate cognitive gender differences. The process such as this starts at a very early stage, as early as primary school. The gender bias and stereotyping begin at an early age. Two-thirds of children aged nine to eleven draw a man when asked to draw a scientist. Girls as young as being in Grade 4 are less confident in their math abilities, the number is as small as 33% despite being as equally skilled as boys in the subject. International math tests reveal no innate gender differences in the abilities of the students. Participation in Year 12 STEM subjects in Australia shows a clear gender imbalance with the following boys to girls ratio:
Advanced Mats 1.9:1
Intermediate maths 1.3:1
Female graduates are scarce in many STEM disciplines with 13% graduate females in IT, 14% in engineering, 22% in Physics and Astronomy, 33% in maths, 36% in earth sciences, and 42% in chemistry.
There are commonly found reasons behind the under-representation of women. Primarily, it’s about the way we are taught things as a child grows up. The societal expectations of boys and girls are very different, and these drastically affect their career choices. The society teaches the girls to strive for perfection while the boys are taught to be brave. By instilling the idea in young girls that they should strive for perfection, she argues, they learn to settle for what ensures success, rather than taking the risks needed to propel women forward in work and in life.
The difference is in how boys and girls approach a challenge. An HP report found that men will apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women, women will apply only if they meet 100% of the qualifications. If there’s anything girls need to learn from boys here, it’s to believe in your own self-worth. It is important to take risks to achieve success. STEM is considered to be a demanding stream to choose and girls underestimate their intellect and abilities which consequently results in the gender gap in this field.
Why aren’t there enough girls in leadership positions?
Another aspect relating to societal expectations, most households grow their girls up teaching them how they will take over the responsibilities of the house like the chores and the kitchen while the boys are taught to grow up to be successful and be the breadwinner of the family. It has been found that they make decisions about their far future in their present affecting their life and career while they only have to take that decision in the future. “Don’t leave before you leave!” - Sheryl Sandberg. It was found that when questions are being taken from the audience, the men keep their hands up despite being told that only a limited number of questions will be taken while the women usually put their hands down after being told that. This explains how men are grabbing out the possible opportunities, while women aren’t, again causing fewer women in to be in leadership positions. Currently, in Australia, only 12% of the female graduates earn in the highest STEM income bracket ($104,000 or over).
“Believe in yourself, negotiate for yourself, own your own success” - Sheryl Sandberg
What can we do about this?
Eliminate stereotypes and bias - We can start with as little as telling our girls of how capable they are and there is no difference in expectations from girls and boys.
Emphasise real-life stem applications in teaching - It was found that fifteen-year-old girls are less confident in applying math concepts to real-world problems, only 41% of the girls were confident to calculate petrol consumption of a car while 88% of the girls were confident to solve a formal maths equation.
Reward hard work and build confidence - it's okay if you don't understand it straight away, you have to trust yourself and be consciously aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your strengths is as important as knowing your weaknesses.
Encourage organisations to create supportive and inclusive workplaces, and monitor progress towards equality - This is an important factor that will gradually improve but within our school, we can try and not stereotype activities linked with girls and boys, make them outnumbered gender feel as welcome as they would if they weren’t outnumbered. It is the fear of feeling left out sometimes that can stop girls from taking part in STEM activities.
Own yourself girls, you got this!
From a science lover