Engaging girls and women with STEM education and careers.
Girls are failing to choose STEM careers because they do not identify with thepeople and roles within STEM.
Girls are more likely to consider studying a STEM subject post-16 if:
- They see that the subject keeps their options open.
- They can envisage themselves working in that area.
- They consider that they will ‘fit in’ and be working with people like themselves.
Here are some ways to assist girls in choosing STEM careers. (All information drawn from the WISE Not for People Like Me research report.)
Speak in a language that girls identify with.
Social science tells us that girls are more likely to create and articulate their self-identity using adjectives, while boys are more likely to talk about themselves in terms of what they do, using verbs. Girls need to self-identify with a role in order to consider it as a potential career route.
Traditionally, science careers outreach and case studies focus on what scientists and engineers do using verbs and rarely use adjectives to describe the attributes required. Using adjectives to describe STEM roles and the people working in STEM is the first step to engaging girls.
Describe the ‘types’ of people who are happy and successful in STEM careers.
Emphasising the ‘types of people’ that are happy and successful in a wide variety of jobs and careers that a STEM qualification provides addresses the concern, particularly amongst girls and their mothers, that STEM is ‘not for people like me’. To find out more about the ‘types of people’ use the WISE People Like Me resources and quiz.
Key points to remember:
- The needs of girls: They want to keep their options open, have a desire to fit in and need to see the point of what they are studying or doing.
- The needs of women: Women want a supportive work environment and career path where they can combine work with family and other commitments.
- The concerns of mothers: Mothers need to be convinced that their daughters can be happy and successful in STEM roles. If not, they will recommend jobs they are already familiar with – and exclude many STEM sectors in the process.
- Girls AND their parents need to see STEM subjects as stepping stones into jobs and careers for people like themselves.
A sustained strategy is needed.
One-off interventions do not work, a sustained programme of interventions over time is needed. Once the spark of interest in STEM is alight, you will need to support and engage with the young person regularly to encourage them to progress with STEM education and training.