While not mutually exclusive, the terms ‘1female’ and ‘scientist’ do not often go together. When girls are asked what they want to do when they are older, many talk about marketing, therapy, 2the caring professions or 3journalism. Perhaps a 4lawyer or fashion designer. Thirty years ago, 5it probably didn’t matter that girls generally avoided science and technology. But the labor market of the ‘80s and ‘90s was a very different place from what it is now.
“The future of the economy is in STEM,” says James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C. “That’s where the jobs of tomorrow will be.”
STEM 6stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is in these areas that 7job growth will happen, with one million more vacancies in the US opening up by 2022.
But for some reason, girls are less interested than boys in pursuing a science-based career, 8despite the fact that girls often do better than boys in STEM subjects if they receive the right 9encouragement.
A new 10survey commissioned by Microsoft found that girls become interested in STEM subjects around the age of 11 but then lose interest around the age of 15.
“Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and 11a lack of role models continue 12to channel girls’ 13career choices away from STEM fields,” says Professor of Psychology Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics who helped to coordinate the survey of 11,500 girls from 12 European countries.
The girls themselves gave a number of reasons for losing interest. These included a lack of female role models – when we imagine a scientist we usually picture a 60-year-old man in a white coat; a lack of hands-on practical experience with STEM subjects 14to bring them to life; and the concern that the world of science and technology is dominated by men, leading to a lack of equality in the workplace.
Interestingly, Spain has more women working in scientific 15research (39% – according to the Cientificas en Cifras 2015 survey) than the European average (33%), but when it comes to senior positions, women hold practically none. This situation could, however, be rectified if there were more women entering the science and technology professions generally.
«Women’s lack of interest in these careers starts in school where science and maths subjects are taught in a complicated and not particularly inviting way,» the President of the Club de la Amigas de Ciencias, Silvia Díaz Lucas, tells Nómadas Solidarios, A doctor of engineering and telecommunications at the University of Navarra, she has set herself the challenge of attracting more women to engineering and making women more visible in science. «It would be ideal if the schools themselves could launch campaigns promoting science as fun and something that generates employment. This really needs to be done long before university as by university, the decision has already been made.»
Lo ideal sería que se lanzasen campañas desde las instituciones autonómicas con el mensaje de que las ciencias son divertidas y generan empleo. Es una labor esencialmente preuniversitaria, ya que a la universidad ya llegan con la decisión tomada.
Some of the ways parents can help 16to foster their daughters’ potential in STEM subjects and increase their future 17employment prospects include:
- Take them to visit interactive science museums.
- Introduce them to female role models working in science and technology.
- Invest in GoldieBlox toys that promise to “empower girls to build their confidence, dreams and ultimately, their futures” using storytelling and STEM principles and tools.
- Join a science club. In and around Madrid, there are several. Science World has 18workshops on Saturday afternoons and Thinkoteca introduces kids between the ages of 6-12 to fun ways of solving maths, engineering, scientific and tech problems. Club Technológico Google also runs workshops on Saturdays for 8-18 year olds.
There was a time when mothers could laugh and tell their daughters how bad they were at maths and science when they were at school. That is no longer helpful – if 19indeed it ever was.
Audio (click to listen)
2the caring professions: profesiones asistenciales
5to matter: importar
6to stand for: significar
7job growth: crecimiento del empleo
8despite the fact: a pesar de
11a lack of: una falta de
12to channel: canalizar
13career choices: elección de carrera
14to bring something to life: dar vida a
16to foster: fomentar
17employment prospects: perspectivas de empleo
19indeed: en realidad