STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are still predominantly male, with women making up only 28% of the STEM workforce. However, getting girls interested in STEM at a young age can help bridge this gender gap.
Here are some tips for parents, teachers and role models on how to encourage girls to embrace STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers.
Lead by Example
Be a role model. If you’re a woman working in a STEM field, talk about your work and what inspired you to pursue a career in STEM. If girls see female role models thriving in STEM, they’ll believe they can too. Share stories of your own journey into STEM and the challenges you faced. Discuss your day-to-day work and projects. Do hands-on demonstrations to showcase how you use STEM skills.
Do STEM activities together. Take girls to science museums, help them with science fair projects, start a coding club, or work on DIY engineering and math activities together. Show them firsthand how fun STEM can be. Let them get hands-on experience with microscopes, robots, computers, building sets, etc.
Embrace your own love of STEM. Share what you find interesting about science, math, technology and engineering. Your passion will be contagious. Explain how you use STEM in your hobbies and daily life. Show your collection of tech gadgets, science books, etc.
Give lots of praise for effort and improvement in STEM subjects. This encourages a growth mindset. Reward practice and dedication, not just innate talent. Praise creative approaches and problem-solving skills.
Expose girls to inspirational stories of female STEM pioneers and innovators. This gives them encouraging role models like Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, and Mae Jemison. Discuss the challenges they overcame.
Stress that intellectual skills can be developed through hard work. Convince girls that they can excel at STEM with dedication. Persistence is key, even in the face of setbacks. Encourage them to believe in themselves.
Encourage girls to believe in themselves and their abilities. Give them confidence that they can master challenging STEM material through sustained effort. Instill a “can-do” attitude.
Make STEM Relatable
Relate STEM to girls’ everyday interests and experiences. Use examples they can personally relate to from music, art, nature, medicine, outer space, etc. Show how STEM is relevant to their lives.
Show how STEM impacts real-world issues girls care about – health, environment, social problems, etc. Discuss innovations that help people and make a positive difference. Show the human impact.
Use TV shows, movies, books, and current events to demonstrate the relevancy of STEM in entertainment and culture. Relate plots and characters to real science and tech. Discuss STEM in pop culture.
Assign STEM projects that solve real-world problems girls find meaningful. This increases engagement and interest. Let them identify issues to address using STEM skills.
Provide Hands-On Learning Opportunities
Incorporate hands-on experiments, building activities, and interactive learning tools. Girls tend to prefer kinesthetic learning. Set up stations to explore concepts through sight, sound, touch, etc.
Organize field trips to science museums, planetariums, zoos, aquariums, observatories, etc. Immersive experiences stick. Try to arrange behind-the-scenes tours and demos by staff.
Start STEM clubs at school or in the community. Join robotics teams, coding camps, maker spaces, or rocketry groups. Compete in tournaments and showcases.
Enter STEM contests and competitions like science fairs, math olympiads, robotics tournaments, hackathons, etc. Competitions are motivating and build teamwork skills.
Introduce Diverse STEM Role Models
Expose girls to women of all backgrounds who are successful in STEM such as scientists, engineers, programmers, and mathematicians. Show diversity in race, age, expertise, etc.
Seek out role models and mentors who can personally relate to girls’ specific challenges. This builds trust. Local women are more accessible for questions.
Show how STEM provides opportunities to help others and make a difference in the world. Appeal to girls’ desire to help people and their community.
Spotlight STEM role models who embody characteristics like creativity, cooperation, and leadership. This promotes well-rounded interests beyond just technical skills.
Make STEM Fun and Engaging
Incorporate games, puzzles, and contests to make STEM subjects entertaining and addictive. Leverage girls’ competitive spirit in a fun way.
Leverage technology like apps, websites, video tutorials, online courses and simulations to provide interactive and self-paced STEM learning. Visuals and videos keep attention.
Do STEM activities like robotics, computer programming, experiments, etc. in an informal setting without the pressure of tests and grades. Focus on discovery vs. formal instruction.
Organize STEM clubs, camps, competitions, maker spaces, hackathons, etc. These social STEM activities build community. Collaboration and teamwork are motivating.
Incorporate arts, crafts, and creativity into STEM activities. Blend STEM and art through design challenges, musical engineering projects, etc.
Use storytelling to make technical concepts come alive. Build narratives around STEM to spark imagination and make it less intimidating.
Address Gender Stereotypes
- Call out and refute gender biases and stereotypes around STEM head-on. Actively counter notions that girls are not as capable.
- Highlight how STEM skills enhance traditionally feminine interests like cooking, fashion, and music. Blend technical and creative pursuits.
- Organize all-girls STEM programs and clubs to build confidence free of gender pressures. Foster sisterhood and role models.
- Promote images of women in STEM across media, toys, books, movies etc. Representation matters and can change perceptions.
- Teach about historical women pioneers in STEM. Tell the stories of those who broke barriers and made contributions despite prejudice.
Build Spatial and Math Skills
- Encourage building toys and construction sets to develop spatial reasoning abilities.
- Provide math puzzles, logic games, and pattern activities to build early reasoning.
- Teach that struggles in STEM are a normal part of learning, not indicative of innate ability. Persistence pays off.
- Promote a growth mindset. Intelligence and skills can be developed over time with hard work. Brains are malleable.
Advocate within Education
- Lobby for STEM curriculum and programs at schools. Volunteer to assist teachers in need of STEM expertise.
- Speak up if girls are being discouraged directly or indirectly from STEM activities and classes.
- Advocate for updated teaching methods that engage different learning styles. Move beyond rote memorization.
- Promote well-rounded education that integrates STEM across disciplines like the arts, humanities, etc.
Provide Early Exposure
- Introduce STEM concepts from an early age through toys, games, and informal learning. Capitalize on natural curiosity.
- Make STEM subjects routine and normalized versus intimidating. Incorporate into everyday activities.
- Surround girls with STEM books, media, games, and family conversations about science and math.
- Start STEM clubs and camps for younger girls. Offer entry-level classes in programming, robotics, etc.
Highlight Job Potential
- Discuss expanding career options in STEM fields and how skills transfer across industries.
- Showcase profiles of women enjoying fulfilling STEM careers that offer work-life balance.
- Invite girls to company tours, job shadow days, and industry conferences to spark interest.
- Develop mentoring and internship programs to provide workforce experience and contacts.
Partner with Educators
- Collaborate with schools and teachers to enhance STEM instruction and resources. Identify gaps needing support.
- Advocate for updated teaching methods and inclusive classroom practices that empower girls in STEM courses.
- Offer guest lectures or assist with STEM subjects. Provide a female expert perspective.
- Fund scholarships and grants for girls pursuing STEM degrees. Alleviate financial barriers to education.
Promote Critical Thinking
- Encourage asking probing questions, analyzing data, and evaluating conclusions. Hone logic and reasoning abilities.
- Endorse calculated risk-taking and learning through trial and error. Overcoming failure builds resilience.
- Foster debating skills, strategic thinking, and ethical reasoning around technology issues.
- Spark curiosity and intellectual independence. Guide discovery vs. dictating facts.
Leverage Successful Programs
- Learn from established initiatives like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and Girls Build LA that are moving the needle.
- Support teacher training programs like Project GUTS that equip educators to engage girls in STEM.
- Advocate for policies like Title IX that prohibit gender discrimination in STEM education.
- Amplify grassroots efforts and local organizations making an impact at the community level.
- Join professional associations like the Society of Women Engineers that offer mentoring and scholarships.
Enlist Male Allies
- Encourage fathers to actively promote daughters’ interest in STEM.
- Urge male leaders to advocate for women pursuing STEM education and careers.
- Recruit positive male teachers and role models to be visible STEM mentors.
- Engage boys and men as partners in building a more equitable and inclusive STEM culture.
The key is to start early and provide consistent encouragement and support from a young age. By making STEM fun, hands-on, and accessible, we can empower the next generation of girls to become innovative leaders in science, tech, engineering and math.
Exposing girls to STEM role models and providing tangible experience builds confidence and skills over their lifetime. With a supportive community and growth mindset, girls can break barriers and fulfill their potential in STEM fields.