By Hana L. Al-Izzi, Intern for the Women’s Resource Center.
Women have made huge breakthroughs in science and innovation, from Marie Curies pioneering research into radioactivity to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi discovery that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Despite this the gender gap we see in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is both large and persistent. The root cause of the problem can be found in our schools, where gender stereotyping of subjects prevails and young women and girls are steered away from paths towards innovation. Tackling this issue is not only important in that it will raise the aspirations and accomplishments of girls, it will also help reduce gendered professions and go a long way towards reducing the gender pay gap.
In 2015 women made up just 14.4% of the UK STEM workforce. We see the number of girls entering STEM subjects deplete the further through education they go, this is despite girls outperforming boys in nearly all STEM subjects. These statistics show the impact of gender stereotyping in subjects and how the awareness of these stereotypes increases with age. To counteract this we need to create a strong connection between girls and STEM at a young age to ensure they are engaged with the subject and more likely to continue it. People often talk about the ‘STEM pipeline’ and it is crucial that we allow and encourage women and girls to stay in this pipeline. Providing girls with opportunities and mentors in STEM is the best way to keep them in the pipeline. Making visible to girls successful women within this workforce will help them form a connection to STEM and help break down the stereotyping they have been exposed to.
When reintroducing the STEM Gateways Bill to the United States House of Representatives Congressman Joe Kennedy III identified the detrimental effect this approach to STEM has on society, “By leaving so many students behind, we are not only limiting their futures but ignoring their economic potential”. The STEM Gateways Bill introduced by Congressman Kennedy and Senator Gillibrand aims to close the opportunity gap in STEM and increase accessibility to a wider range of young people, including girls. It does so by creating funds for schools to run STEM programs in and out of the classroom providing tutoring and mentoring for students and professional development for educators. This is a focused effort on expanding STEM opportunities for girls and other groups such as economically disadvantaged students who are not currently well represented in STEM. We need to bring legislation like this to the UK to help promote gender equality within STEM and ensure that the sector is more diverse in the future.
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