Happy International Women’s Day to all of you wonderful people. Today is a great day to celebrate women’s achievements. However, it’s also a day to recognise the road ahead, and all the obstacles we still have to face. According to the BCS (The Chartered Institute of IT), only 19% of girls would consider a STEM-based career in comparison to 51% of boys. So why do young girls lose interest in STEM so easily?
Let’s crunch some numbers
Microsoft recently ran a survey trying to figure this out. They asked 11,500 women between the ages of 11 and 30 in 12 countries across Europe about their attitudes to STEM. The results?
Most girls become interested in a science, technology, engineering or maths subject at age 11 (and a half). This interest will start to disappear at age 15. The main reason cited for the disinterest is an apparent lack of female role models in STEM to emulate.
“Governments, teachers and parents only have four or five years to nurture girls’ passion before they turn their backs on these areas. Potentially for good,” said Microsoft in a statement.
What can society do to change this?
According to the same survey, 57 per cent of participants said having a teacher who encouraged them to pursue STEM would make it more likely for them to continue an interest. A very wise comment from an 11-year-old French participant read, “A good teacher gives life to the subject.” There’s also a real demand for teachers to demonstrate the practicality of STEM subjects. Four in ten girls said they didn’t get enough practical experience in the classroom.
Beyond that, 60 per cent of girls said they wanted to see encouragement from women industry leaders. Young women crave a boost from professional female coders, engineers and scientists saying, “you can do this too.”
In addition, young women are put off STEM careers by the perception that the STEM workplaces lack equality. 60 per cent of the women surveyed said they felt they would feel more confident pursuing a career in STEM if they knew women and men were equally employed in those professions.
Perception continues to be an issue as well. 44 per cent of girls said they pictured a man when they think of a scientist, engineer or mathematician.
So, a more practical approach to STEM education, more mentorship, and equal opportunities in the workplace. Seems straightforward enough, right? We sure hope so. According to Microsoft, there are two reasons why we should be encouraging young girls to pursue STEM careers.
Reason one: because it helps them. Encouraging young girls to pursue STEM careers gives them so many more possibilities in an increasingly digital world.
Reason two: The world needs young girls to go into STEM careers. According to the European Commission, Europe could face a shortage of 900,000 skilled digital workers by 2020. If there were as many women as men in the STEM jobs market, the EU’s annual GDP could be boosted by as much as €9 billion. €9 billion!
If that’s not enough to convince employers they should encourage young women to run the world, we don’t know what will.