Today, February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated . This initiative, which is only three years old, aims to give visibility to the work of female scientists, encourage scientific vocations in girls and help close the gender gap in science.
Because although studies show that it is not true that women are not good at science, the reality says otherwise: women are seriously underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. We try to explain why and we look for strategies to get girls interested in science.
Let’s think for a moment. With the exception of Marie Curie, how many women scientists come to mind? Very few. And yet they have always existed and their role has been very important throughout history and, of course, today as well.
Even so, the data indicates that the so-called STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, for its acronym in English) do not seem to be very attractive for young women. But for what reason if studies have shown that boys and girls are just as smart ?
According to Gender in the Global Research Landscape , female scientists account for more than 40% of researchers in the US and the European Union. But their presence is not equal in all scientific disciplines: while the number of women in health is relatively high, in physics, mathematics or engineering they barely account for 25% of the total. And specifically in Spain, only 28% of university students in these careers are women , a percentage slightly lower than that of the European OECD countries, which stands at 31.4%.
- It may be due to a subliminal message from society that makes us discard this type of career when we are teenagers because it is linked to something more masculine . You just have to remember how the scientist is shown in some of the famous American movies, as a young geek, crazy about mathematics and asocial.
- In addition, the macho tradition in education can lead girls to think that they are less intelligent . When it’s not like that at all.
High school is the key stage
A study by the Camilo José Cela University (UCJC), published at the end of November 2018, analyzes why this happens based on data from the PISA report and its conclusions leave no room for doubt: although the scientific vocation at 15 years of age is low in general, boys triple the girls in their intention to study science.
Among the causes, social factors related to gender bias, such as the lack of self-confidence among girls : “For the same grade, female students are less likely to recognize that they are ‘good'”.
According to the report, it is in Secondary School when sciences begin to move away and it is very common to have Technological Baccalaureate classes with only two or three girls.
How to Motivate Girls to Love Science
Opinions of scientific experts and researchers reinforce the idea that we have to take measures to encourage girls to approach the world of science and put an end to unjustified beliefs. These are some of the proposals that we have compiled, although surely as parents you have some more ideas.
Promote cooperative scientific learning
It is important that both boys and girls interact equally in school work related to science. Sharing learning with their peers helps spark girls’ interest in science from an early age.
The involvement of parents through the centers and the teachers themselves is also just as important.
Building self-confidence in girls
The professional orientation that is carried out in the ESO must pay attention to specific characteristics of the girls, such as that lack of self-confidence in themselves.
“Educators have the obligation to get it right in the second cycle of ESO, in which most professional vocations are born and the path to follow is marked. Then come the Baccalaureate itineraries, then the career or Vocational Training, ” and it is very difficult to make the path back from non-STEM to STEM”, point out the authors of the UCJC report.
And they add an aspect that seems very representative and important to us to end the wage gap between men and women, a reason to reflect and encourage our daughters to choose those studies that most appeal to them, because they are prepared for any of them, such as rest of the guys:
” The gender bias, stereotypes and social expectations reserved for girls and boys start in high school and affect the wage gap they will experience as adults. By the end of this decade, the rate of STEM job creation will double that of men non-STEM jobs (18% vs. 9%).If we were to get women to choose these professions, part of the pay gap that has to do with differences in job type would be reduced.”
Create a stimulating scientific environment
Ángeles Bueno, president of the Womenteck Women and Technology Association, is committed to creating a stimulating and favorable environment at school so that girls can develop this scientific vocation just like their peers.
One strategy is to give girls opportunities to succeed in STEM career-related tasks to start building their confidence. For example, designing a programming exercise as a game, which could help them feel more motivated and capable of success.
Disseminate the role of women scientists
Although textbooks are populated only by male examples, it is good to talk to them about women who have contributed to science (such as Marie Curie or Jane Goodall), and who can serve as a reference for budding little scientists.
Traditional sexist beliefs make young women believe that being an industrial or computer engineer implies abandoning personal and family life in order to be successful, discrimination in women’s salaries and glass ceilings in their professional careers. As a consequence, many end up choosing careers related to the branches of health, instead of technical ones such as engineering.
We, the parents, can modify these false beliefs, showing them real models to follow. It is proven that girls’ interest in science and technology doubles when they have female role models . We can, for example:
- Read books by women scientists together
- Watch together documentaries and biographical films like ‘Gorillas in the mist’ .
- Attend museums, talks, exhibitions and workshops that highlight the role of relevant women in the world of science.
Encourage scientific play
Building blocks are a long-standing toy that help develop spatial reasoning skills, which are the best indicator of whether children will end up in a career related to science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) .
Also, of course, technological toys , scientists, or toys with which they can do experiments, for example, biology or astronomy.
Toys with design and construction elements, circuits and cables , programming elements, representation of ecosystems… They are a good alternative for girls (and of course boys too) to understand the world around them.
Of course, without forgetting that the main objective of the game is to have fun, so we must promote the fact that all toys are suitable for boys and girls , but looking for those that best suit the tastes of our daughters .
Put science at your fingertips
If the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers is due to cultural reasons and not to innate gender differences or false stereotypes, parents can help eliminate these false beliefs that discourage girls from becoming scientists.
Science and technology are part of our lives and it is important that we make them notice even in the smallest things, such as teaching them to observe everyday scientific phenomena, doing experiments with them at home, introducing them to the world of programming, teach them how a machine or an engine works…
Always support them in their choices
It is key that girls feel supported by their parents in the choices they make. According to a study carried out by Microsoft among 11,500 girls from all over Europe, 81% of girls who receive support from their parents in their interest in science and technology declare their predisposition to study STEM and develop their professional career in this area.