Where did your interest in tech start? Did you fall in love with math or engineering in school? Or have you always been interested in computers and coding? Perhaps you had a role model who guided you towards this career path. Or maybe you simply ‘fell into’ this industry by accident. (It happens to plenty of us!)
Whatever it is that brought you here – we’re so glad to have you in this community. Tech needs you more than you know. And it needs future generations of ‘yous’ too.
But to be frank, there’s an issue with the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workers.
The reality is, many kids in the US prefer to pursue interests outside of STEM. In the early 2000s studies showed that children in the US showed much less interest in STEM than children in other countries.
No big deal? Well forecasts showed that this could translate to fewer young people pursuing STEM careers, and the US falling behind in the global economy as a result. Quite a big deal!
National STEM Day was developed to change the narrative.
What is National STEM Day?
Held on November 8 each year, its purpose is to inspire children to develop an interest in STEM subjects. Classrooms around the US are encouraged to run fun activities, excursions and competitions to expose kids to STEM subjects and foster a love for these areas.
Many leading science and tech organizations like NASA have jumped onboard, releasing interesting activity ideas and ways to celebrate. They understand that we need to be encouraging more kids to develop skills and interest in STEM subjects, because demand for skilled workers in these fields is only growing.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, STEM occupations are projected to grow more than twice as fast as the total for all occupations in the next decade. We need to empower and equip the next generation to meet this demand.
A chance to nip STEM gender bias in the bud
Another fact we need to highlight in the discussion of National STEM Day is the gender bias still very present in these industries.
Despite making up nearly half of the US workforce, women are still vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. While the gender balance has improved in recent times, female representation growing from 8% in 1970 to 27% in 2019, men still dominate the field.
In 2019, men made up 52% of all US workers, but 73% of all STEM workers. This indicates that men have better access to these types of roles, which come with a blatantly higher paycheck than other, female-heavy occupations. (Hello, Gender Pay Gap.)
If we’re to achieve the diverse and equal workforce we dream of, we need to nip gender bias in STEM in the bud early on. We need to help more young girls engage with STEM subjects in school.
Who is ‘we’?
Educators may unknowingly steer girls away from subjects like math and science. Take this disappointing quote from Nancy Grace Roman, prolific Astronomer and ‘Mother of the Hubble Telescope’:
“I still remember asking my high school guidance teacher to take a second year of algebra instead of a fifth year of Latin. She looked down her nose at me and sneered, ‘What lady would take mathematics instead of Latin?’”
Today’s teachers are well-positioned to spark interest in STEM for young girls, and should be equipped with resources to do so. They should also identify any hidden biases or unconscious beliefs they may hold about how gender influences learning.
Mae Jemison, the first Black female astronaut to travel in space, said this:
“Sometimes parents squash students’ interests because they are afraid of science or math. So they don’t participate. You don’t have to know the answers to engage kids; you just have to let them know it’s important.”
This quote highlights how vital parents’ influence is in encouraging girls to pursue an interest in STEM subjects at school. Research shows that both parents and teachers underestimate girls’ math abilities, and believe girls need to work harder to get the same results as boys.
And while it may seem tough for girls to break into male-dominated industries, parents should know that young girls today DO have a plethora of female role models they can use to inspire their daughters in pursuing STEM careers.
Gender bias issues will continue repeating themselves until organizations and individuals actively make a change. Organizations are already doing this by promoting more women and creating fairer working environments that embrace diversity.
As individuals, we can pave the way for more female participation in STEM fields by building up other women and advocating for one another in the workplace.
7 ways to inspire the future generation of women in STEM
- Volunteer to give a talk at a school, or use your skills to mentor young girls.
- Publicly share your career successes and achievements – girls need more role models to look up to
- Check out these ways to get girls more excited about STEM careers
- If you’re a parent, don’t be afraid to set the example of women working in tech, and raise your children to believe positive values about females in STEM.
- Celebrate and talk about other women in STEM.
- Introduce kids you know to programs like Hour of Code to learn computer programming skills.
Lean on technology and encourage young girls to explore STEM subjects through virtual tours or flight simulators. There are so many virtual learning resources available for kids!
You’re never too old to start in STEM
Despite National STEM Day’s focus on school-aged children, at Girls in Tech we believe it’s vital that all women of all ages know that you’re welcome and needed in tech and beyond. As much as young women’s participation in STEM is an issue, we also know that women are often excluded from tech careers in older age as well, particularly after raising children.
It’s important to know that you’re never too young or too old to explore an interest in STEM.