Although the gender gap in mathematics and science performance in secondary education is narrowing, there is a lack of females choosing STEM-related subjects in higher education, or as a career path. Parents could hold the key.
“Educating parents on the benefits of STEM-related roles and highlighting the kind of career satisfaction that is possible could transform the underrepresentation of women in STEM,” says
Trudy Norris-Grey, Microsoft’s General Manager for Central and Eastern Europe, and Chair of the organization WISE (Women in Science and Engineering). “If parents are more informed, they can help their daughters make an informed choice about their ongoing education.”
Research by global organization IET (The Institution of Engineering and Technology), found that two thirds of parents don’t feel they know enough to help their child if they ask for advice on engineering. After being shown additional information, more parents would like to know more, unaware of the broad scope of engineering careers available, including biomedicine and renewable technology.
STEM subjects are at the heart of everything we do, says Norris-Grey. “STEM skills are transferable and relevant to so many different roles. As society becomes more reliant on technology, we will need more IT professionals, and females offer a different perspective within teams.
“Around the world, there is a mis-match between the skills we are going to need versus the skills we have, and this is particularly relevant to schools.
“Teachers and parents, we’ve all got a job to do in increasing awareness and belief in girls,” adds Norris-Grey. “We all play a fundamental role in inspiring the next generation of female scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Creative, resourceful, collaborative, ingenious and adventurous students will be highly sought after in the STEM field.”
However, the responsibility does not just fall on the shoulders of parents. The challenge for the industry is to change misconceptions and encourage more role models to come into the public spotlight, says Norris-Grey. “Industries need to work harder to make STEM an interesting prospect for the next generation, so students can see themselves in that position in the future,” she says.
Scientists such as Professor Eleanor Stride at the University of Oxford, who is developing new treatments for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease; and Dr Shirley Ann Jackson, an American physicist whose research led to the invention of the touch-tone telephone, caller ID, call waiting and the fiber-optic cable, are just some of the hundreds of female innovators from across the STEM sectors. “We need more role models like these to raise the profile of female innovators,” says Norris-Grey.
Changing the face of STEM
Although apps, technology, medicine and new combinations of science have revolutionized society, misconceptions about STEM subjects and careers still prevail.
“Many still view IT as a solitary profession, and engineering as dull and boring, thinking it’s just about engines and bridges. There is so much more to it than that,” says Norris-Grey.
Of course, not all females will take an interest in STEM. Interest needs to be initiated by the student. “We have to encourage girls but not dictate to them. After gaining interest, the next hurdle is retaining it,” explains Norris-Grey, who advises schools to hold more interactive sessions such as open days to pique interest.
Inviting a female engineer into the school to talk to parents and students about what they do is also valuable, according to IET. The Institution suggests that if provided with the right information about engineering and the diversity of careers within it, parents and students can better see the appeal.
“There is no silver bullet that is going to change the number of girls entering the STEM field,” says Norris-Grey. “It’s a generational process, but we need to make sure girls prosper in the right environment.”
For resources and information visit http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/youthspark/youthsparkhub/
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