As you know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. While the fields represented by the acronym are exciting, the statistics surrounding STEM are pretty depressing for women. In the US, where women comprised 48% of the workforce in 2009, there were only 24% of women working in STEM careers. That’s despite the fact that women with STEM jobs earned 33% more than women in other fields.
A 2011 statistic revealed that of the 471,920 undergraduates enrolled in engineering less than 20% of enrolments belonged to women. The number of women in computing is also scarce, in 1990, 35% of employees were women, but today the proportion has dropped lower, to 26%.
So what can we do to boost our daughters’ and female students’ performance? Here are five tips to help women excel in STEM.
1) Start Young
A study looked at the way mothers talk numbers to their toddlers. The researchers found that mothers spoke about numbers and quantities to boys two or three times more than they did to girls. Furthermore, this is the age where boys are given blocks and legos, which help develop their spatial and building activities, while girls are more likely to drown in pink dolls every time a birthday comes around.
So what can you do? Ensure that you talk digits and counting just as much to your daughters as you would to your sons. Don’t start burning dolls and tutus just yet, but be aware that every interaction with your toddler is educational, so choose wisely when buying toys.
2) Focus on STEM at home
If your daughter has a question about math or science, help her discover the answer. Even if you don’t know it yourself, make sure you point her to the right resources. Do not be scared of math or science at home. There are plenty of science experiments that can be performed in a garden or a kitchen. Even the concept of liquid density can be demonstrated when mixing oil and vinegar together for a salad dressing.
3) Make Sure She Knows Math is Cool
This author’s daughter found herself feeling isolated when there were only two other girls in her math class. “Somehow our sweet little girl had got it into her head that being good at math was “uncool” and that boys wouldn’t like her!” she wrote. Make sure there are a plethora of STEM women and role models to discuss at the dinner table like Marie Curie, or as Mark Zuckerberg said to one grandmother tell her to “be the nerd.”
4) Talk to Teachers
If your daughter has an interest in STEM, then that curiosity needs to be nourished by everyone around her. Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways to discourage women in STEM fields; even leading scientists have come up with sexist barbs. Speak to your daughter’s science, math and technology teachers to let them know where her interests lie. They will need to keep encouraging her throughout her schooling career.
5) Encourage Persistence
Science and math are the types of subjects that at some point will seem too hard, whether it’s hitting a wall when it comes to trigonometry or excelling in biology and struggling in physics. Do not let your daughter walk away from her homework and make sure there is someone available to help her on her way.
Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one. She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.