We all need more girls in STEM

Girls into STEM workshops

STEM Ambassadors from the Data Science Campus hosted a group of female school pupils visiting the campus. The Ambassadors shared their energy and enthusiasm for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) with the young visitors during a hands-on workshop which included games to promote mathematics and data science as well as an introduction to coding session with our team of programmable Lego™ Boost robots. The Girls into STEM workshop was organised in partnership with STEM Cymru and the Engineering Education Scheme Wales (EESW).

Why do we need more girls in STEM?

I have been a STEM Ambassador for a number of years, motivated largely by a desire to offer young pupils the opportunity to engage with maths in ways that if I’m honest, I did not experience at school. Now that I’m all grown up (well, mostly) I use mathematical modelling for health research, a job that satisfies my passion for problem-solving and provides a sense of purpose. I’ve long believed that by sharing the excitement and enthusiasm I have for my work I can help promote a positive image of STEM subjects and broaden the viewpoints of young people questioning the possible options for a career.

When I was young, it didn’t seem unusual for girls to be interested in STEM subjects, although I was the only girl who took GSCE Electronics in my school year. But the statistics on gender differences at each stage of education are concerning. The numbers of girls and boys studying maths and science at GSCE are similar, since these subjects are mandatory, but there are fewer girls represented in optional subjects such as ICT, computing and statistics. Then there is a massive drop off in the number of girls continuing to study STEM subjects beyond GSCE (35% of girls compared with 80% of boys). At university level, 25% of graduates in STEM subjects are women. In the labour market, the proportion of professionals in core STEM occupations represented by women was 23% in 2017. This is at a time when the demand for STEM skills is booming; far outstripping the supply of newly qualified graduates entering this field. Encouraging more girls to continue with education in STEM subjects is one way to address the shortfall.

The benefits of diversity

The necessity for more females in data science is more than just meeting labour market demands. It is, far more importantly, about enabling diversity in technology to produce better analytical products. Every one of us has a different view of the world around us and different ways of identifying resolutions. The more ways we can perceive a problem the more likely we are to find the solution; there is evidence indicating that the diversity of a team of problem-solvers is more important than the individual abilities of team members. Organisations whose success depends on the efficacy of teamwork, which is a substantial proportion of STEM industries, are therefore somewhat dependent on the attitudes that influence and inform the diversity of its workforce. Working in teams of people with a range of perspectives, expertise and experiences to solve a common problem together makes logical and moral sense.

What’s causing this issue?

Research into gender equality in STEM industries continues to expand, with some attention focussing on the differences in choice of career in relation to differing interests. Differences in the opportunity to pursue interests has been shown to be a prominent factor explaining global differences in the gender gap in education and career choices. The variation in the gender gap between the sub-disciplines of STEM may reflect these differences in interests and research has shown that the pattern can be attributed to people-orientated and thing-orientated applications of STEM. This suggests that an understanding of the career choices of men and women across different STEM fields could be as meaningful as understanding the career choices between STEM and non-STEM fields.

In my own experience as a young pupil I too struggled to grasp what mathematicians actually did or where they worked. I wanted to do something that would help people. But I didn’t know how being a mathematician would enable me to do that. It was much later when I became inspired by mathematical applications in healthcare. I began to understand the ways that maths was vitally important for understanding and improving population health and the contribution that mathematicians had to offer in helping to detect, prevent and treat illnesses. I was inspired by models being developed to help plan medical services in rural India for the treatment of HIV and AIDS patients and algorithms detecting previously unknown diseases by analysing large volumes of patient data. It seemed unbelievable to me that I hadn’t known about the vast breadth and depth of opportunities much earlier on.

What am I doing to help?

Some of the reasons girls choose not to progress to a career in STEM are to do with the perception of jobs in these fields. There are various factors that contribute to this complex issue, such as:

  • a lack of awareness about the roles and possibilities that careers could offer
  • a misinformed perception of the stereotype mathematician persona
  • a lack of contact with people working in STEM
  • a lack of clarity as to how a career in STEM might be congruent with non-work-related life goals and ambitions

These are things I can help to address by simply sharing my time and my own personal experiences, by being visible to young women I make it easier for them to relate to and imagine their own future selves in a STEM career.

I’m proud to help provide opportunities for girls and it’s my hope that it is they themselves that close the gender gap by following their own curiosity and intrigue into a STEM career. I believe that lasting change comes from self-willing participation and enthusiasm; systematic encouragement of interest and engagement; and hopefully a little inspiration from girls who grew up to be women in STEM.

Visit the STEM Learning website to find out more information about events happening near you and how you can get involved. #CodeTodayCreateTomorrow

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2 comments on “We all need more girls in STEM”

  1. Eleanor Taylor -

    The link to Stem Learning takes me through to a website with an academic article. However, it doesn’t seem to have information about events. Please can you send me some information on this?

    1. Peter Fullerton -

      Thanks for letting us know. We’ve put the right link in now.

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