Jobs in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are more plentiful and, generally speaking, higher-paying than other jobs. However, it is estimated that millions of STEM jobs go unfilled because few people have the education or training for them. For example, it is predicted that 3.5 million cybersecurity positions, requiring strong STEM skills, will remain unfilled in 2021. In fact, many view the STEM worker shortage as a crisis.
Encourage Girls and Women in STEM/STEAM
STEM jobs are projected to grow almost 9% a year with computing, engineering, and manufacturing leading the way. Yet, women currently make up only about 28% of the STEM workforce. According to a 2019 STEM survey by Emerson, 2 out of 3 women say they were NOT encouraged to pursue a STEM career. And we all know that women make up 50 percent of the population.
Consequently, leaders in the STEM industries and educators alike have thought about ways to encourage girls and women in the STEM fields. We also spoke to students, teachers, and leaders in STEM fields. With their thoughts, we came up with the top five ways to encourage STEM to bring better female representation in the field.
Join Math/Science Clubs
Many students and parents report that STEM clubs can sometimes be more interesting than studying math, science, technology, and engineering in the classroom. Friends can join together and lend each other moral and social support. A few possible clubs are Math Counts, Science Olympiad, Robotics, Girls Who Code, and Women in STEM. If some of these clubs or school programs are not available at schools, a group of students can work to start their own club affiliated with a national branch.
Some organizations offer sensitivity training for teachers and mentors who oversee math, science, technology, and engineering courses and clubs. Such sensitivity training makes people aware of their attitudes and behaviors towards others. It also works to help teach people to be respectful of people they view as different from themselves.
Certain organizations offer broadened sensitivity training connected to gender issues, but also in connection with race, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation, and other categories protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. For instance, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics has video series, like “Put Her FIRST” and “FIRST like a Girls,” that both mentors and fellow students can enjoy and learn from. FIRST robotics states that one of the five strategic pillars is to increase diversity. Don Bossi, president of FIRST, has stated “we need kids of all backgrounds, capabilities, and social circumstances to contribute and participate in addressing the world’s toughest challenges and making the world a better place for future generations.” Their training also includes sensitivity to other perceived differences as well. It is important not only to be nondiscriminatory and tolerant, but encouraging different attitudes, behavior, and language.
Expand funding for such programs as sensitivity training and clubs that cater to underrepresented groups within STEM fields. Teachers and administrators can apply for grants and allocate school funds to many organizations that are already working hard to encourage girls and women interested in STEM like Girlstart, National Girls Collaboration Project (NGCP), Women Who Code, STEM for Her, Techbridge Girls, Women & Hi-Tech, Women in Tech Fund, and National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).
Hire More Women Teachers, Leaders, and Mentors in Science, Math, and Technology Fields
Girls and Women want to see themselves in their leaders. Math Teachers or Robotic Club mentors who are women are powerful role models. Sixty-three percent of middle school girls who know women in STEM feel more powerful doing STEM themselves. Moms can also be important role models. Moms who communicate on STEM lead girls and other underrepresented groups to be 20 points more interested in pursuing STEM. Grandmothers and other female relatives can also be powerful role models.
Expand STEM Education to STEAM
Oftentimes, people will view the STEM fields as a “hard or pure scientific approach” to drive a particular concept. STEAM adds the “arts” to the equation to include both the hard and soft approaches to teach and utilize concepts. STEAM also encourages inclusiveness, collaboration, and creativity, as well as its “out-of-the-box” thinking. Creative approaches in STEAM education may connect math, science, and technology to art, photography, music, dance, and theatre, and encourages students and teachers to partake in such endeavors. Project-based learning has also been shown to encourage a broader base of students, who may be motivated by solving real-world problems rather than engineering generally.