People all over the world celebrate March 8th as International Women’s Day. A day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a day to review how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace, and development.
This year’s theme is #EachforEqual: a call for collective action and shared responsibility as the key to driving a gender-equal world. This means that collectively we can help to create a gender-equal world.
At PEN, we are using this medium to shine the light on how you as an educator, as a parent, as an organization can equip girls to take up STEM.
Why should we be concerned about creating gender equality in STEM?
It may not be too obvious but there aren't enough women in the STEM space. We want to encourage a world where there are as many women scientists as there are men, a world where math is not left for boys alone, a world where girls can fearlessly tackle engineering without being viewed as a ‘tom-boy.
One of the reasons for this under-representation in STEM is a lack of exposure to prospective careers in STEM and as a result, fewer girls choose to study STEM subjects at secondary school and university.
Here are some of the ways that we can motivate girls to take up STEM:
Expose girls to STEM from a young age. This helps to break down the stereotype that STEM is 'only for boys'. As an educator, I endeavor to create conducive environments where females are comfortable with learning STEM. As a parent/guardian, encourage your girl-child to play with toys that spark curiosity and inspire creativity. It is up to us all to deliberately make the effort to stop associating certain games eg video games, Lego, to boys only. Girls love gaming too. Expose girls to STEM and instill in them the confidence to shine in any chosen career path.
Another way of exposing girls to STEM is by promoting career discovery programs in STEM-related fields. This will enable them to identify the possible careers in STEM which they can pursue.
Encourage girls to participate in STEM programs. If girls do not understand that there are opportunities in the field of STEM, they may easily become discouraged when facing the hurdles of STEM. Encourage them to dream big and follow their STEM dreams; as the benefits far outweigh the challenges. You can also encourage them by connecting them with people who are passionate about STEM and who are genuinely interested in empowering them to pursue STEM.
Collaborate with them
As a company or an organization, you can create opportunities for young girls to intern at your organization where they can learn about the possibilities and opportunities that abound in the STEM industry. You can create job shadowing programs to allow those interested in a specific field to follow and shadow someone already working in that field for a given amount of time. This will enable young girls to witness first hand what the job entails. You can also encourage teamwork among females; to provide a safe space where they can share ideas, and rely on one another for creative problem-solving.
It is important to have women in STEM who will act as role models for the younger girls, inspiring them to follow their STEM dreams and helping to break the stereotypes surrounding gender roles in career. Girls who know a woman in STEM professionally are more likely to feel empowered to engage in STEM activities. Surround girls with female role models who have industry experience in STEM fields. This helps to build their confidence. Females who have successful careers in STEM know what it's like to pursue a technical degree and will have tips to share on how to navigate the waters and succeed in the industry. Team them up with mentors who will be willing to spend time with them, someone interested and willing to help them grow in their career. Mentors can also help to demystify the technicalities of science and highlight rewarding career paths in the industry.
What are you doing today to equip the girl-child for STEM?
Author: Nancy Ewurum