When it comes to girls in STEM, it’s well known that there is a gender divide in the STEM fields. Despite no evidence of biological differences between men and women in terms of scientific and mathematical aptitude, men outnumber women in STEM academic programs and jobs. In today’s post, we’ll look at some current statistics and trends related to female representation in technical fields. We’ll also cover some great ways to get girls more involved in STEM activities to bridge and ultimately close the gender gap.
To jump right into STEM activities, check out our popular free beginner-friendly coding class Scratch Ninja Intro.
Girls in STEM statistics
What is the current state of the STEM gender gap in K-12 education? In short, we’re improving in some measurable ways. In elementary and middle school, girls perform just as well as their male peers on standardized tests in the STEM fields.
In high school, both boys and girls are taking a similar number of science courses, although girls express a slight preference for biological science courses, while boys gravitate more towards physics courses. The biggest difference in high school course enrollment is in engineering and AP computer science: male students outnumber female students almost 3 to 1 in engineering courses and more than 3 to 1 in AP computer science.
Similar patterns appear in higher education. In 2015, while women received more than 50% of the biological sciences bachelor’s degrees, they only made up 20% of the engineering and 18% of the computer science degrees.
There is no evidence to suggest that one gender has more of a natural aptitude for STEM fields than another. So why the disparities?
A lot of the reasons appear to be cultural. STEM work is still coded as male, and there is a lot of evidence that implicit biases cause teachers to assess girls lower than their male peers. Girls also tend to be socialized to be less confident in fields such as mathematics, inhibiting their proficiency even when they are theoretically capable. All of these factors must be addressed to ensure all girls can thrive in STEM.
Gender gap in STEM
Girls must also be prepared to face issues of inequity in the workforce. In spite of substantial efforts, the workforce gender gap in STEM still persists. Currently, half of workers in the US are women. However, women only make up 28% of the technical workforce, even as the gap narrows in higher education.
This divide is especially true in engineering, where women account for less than 17% of the overall positions. While these numbers represent substantial progress (in 1970, only 8% of STEM jobs went to women), it’s clear we have a long way to go.
What is the reason for this gap? There are many potential societal and economic factors that contribute to the gender gap in the workforce. While American culture is shifting, there are still long-held beliefs about what engineers, mathematicians, and scientists should “look like,” and there is still some perception of these jobs as “male.”
Additionally, there are significant challenges in breaking into male-dominated fields, ranging from enduring a predominately male-defined office culture to being shut out of the top jobs. Women are also typically the ones who take on the majority of housework, and STEM jobs may be less flexible than other types of employment.
Keeping girls in STEM
While the statistics above paint a troubling picture, there are many excellent organizations and efforts dedicated to keeping girls in STEM.
1. Celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day!
February 24 is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a holiday meant to show girls the wonders of engineering and foster a love of STEM. Use this day as an opportunity to show a girl in your life how cool engineering and the sciences can be - sign up for a free coding class, try an engineering challenge, or even learn about a famous female engineer. For more ideas, see our recent post.
2. Find a female mentor.
Representation matters, and seeing female professionals in STEM fields can have a large impact on a girl’s confidence and belief that she too can join the STEM workforce. Several organizations have made it their mission to set up mentors for high school and college women, including WomenInStem.org and WISMP. Mentors meet with their mentees and support their career development, academic pursuits, and more.
3. Get involved in a Girls-Only Coding Club.
While girls can thrive in co-ed classrooms, single-gender organizations are great ways to build support networks and hone skills in a low-pressure setting. Organizations like Girls Who Code or Black Girls Code aim to provide a safe space for girls and/or girls of color to learn and grow. Summer camps like Kode with Klossy provide an intensive experience for female and non-binary students to build their coding skills as well. There are also many excellent coding platforms that are geared towards girls and are specifically designed with gender parity in mind.
4. Love and cherish STEM at home!
This one may seem obvious, but it’s imperative that parents and guardians support their children in all aspects of their STEM education. For female parents/guardians especially, you can help your girls love or develop a love of STEM by always projecting a good attitude about the subjects and acting as a female STEM advocate.
Replace “science is really hard” or “I was never good at math” with “I know it’s a tough problem, but we can figure it out together” or “You might be stuck right now, but that just means you’re learning.” Do math problems at the dinner table, or discuss science projects during long car rides. You are wonderful role models for your children, and maintaining positive STEM-talk in the house will go a long way towards helping your children to develop confidence and interest in the subjects.
Girls in STEM scholarships
There are many amazing scholarship opportunities for girls interested in STEM fields.
- The Science Ambassador Scholarship: This scholarship, created and awarded by the team behind Cards Against Humanity, fully funds up to four years of higher education in a STEM field. Applicants must create a short video explaining a science concept of their choosing.
- Society of Women Engineers Scholarships: The Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, offers a number of scholarships for women pursuing engineering degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Scholars complete one application and then may be considered for any of the scholarships, which can cover up to $12,000 of tuition.
- Bold.org: Bold.org, a scholarship platform, has a number of well-funded scholarships for women interested in the sciences. The Learner Women in Mathematics scholarship provides $1000 for a female mathematician, while the Young Women in STEM scholarship provides three $10,000 scholarships to female, low-income science stars. While Bold.org scholarship requirements vary, most require some type of essay.
Get started supporting girls in STEM today
Today, we discussed some of the many issues facing girls and women today, as well as several great ways to combat these societal challenges. Up next, read all about famous women in computer science.
Written by Sarah Rappaport, who graduated from Northwestern University with undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering and music. She's now working on a masters in data with Georgia Institute of Technology. She taught math and computer science with Teach for America for two years, and now works as a Systems Engineer.