It is no secret that women are largely underrepresented in STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) careers. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that women make up only 26 percent of the STEM workforce — and yet they make up 57 percent of the overall U.S. workforce. The lack of women in STEM has become so alarming that even former President Barak Obama made it a presidential initiative to get more of girls and women to enter STEM related fields.
The reasons as to why there aren’t more women in STEM jobs vary, from gender stereotypes to a lack of female role models within the field to cultural bias that connotes STEM fields as masculine. Yet, in recent years there has been a nation-wide push to change this and encourage more women and girls to enter the field.
So, what can you as an educator do to encourage a love of science, technology, engineering and math in young girls? Here are four ideas:
1. Start Teaching STEM Subjects Early
One strategy for encouraging more women to enter STEM careers is to start young. As Erik Robelen wrote in Education Week, “Long before women pick a college major or enter the workforce, their K-12 education sets the stage in level of interest, confidence, and achievement in STEM.” Exposing girls to STEM subjects at a young age also allows them to build confidence in subjects they have historically been told they “aren’t good at.”
2. Add the ‘A’ to STEM subjects can encourage participation and increase confidence
In recent years, there has been a push to emphasize STEAM subjects, (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) in K-12 schools. However, there are still some who believe that adding art to STEM waters down the critical subjects of math, science, engineering and tech.
This is not the case, says Joi Spencer, Ph.D., mathematics learning theorist and associate dean at the University of San Diego. “I think that perhaps what they [critics of adding art to STEM] might miss is that we lose a lot of students in mathematics and science very early on because they are convinced they are not the kind of kids that can do math or science. We are losing a lot of wonderfully talented young people because they get out of the game before they really get off the ground. It is our approach, our attitude of conceiving of only one kind of student being able to be good in math or science. We must open up our vision of what it means to be good at this type of work. Other countries are outpacing us because they are willing to embrace a lot of young people in this work, while we dismiss so many of them.”
3. Recognize Your Own Internalized Gender Stereotypes
Laurie O’Brien, a psychology professor at Tulane University told The Atlantic,
“One of the biggest issues with how most people think about stereotypes—they think it’s intentional. But actually, if you don’t do anything, you will hold stereotypes, and it’s something you have to fight against, especially as educators.” For example, as NBC News explained, “Teachers often interact more with boys than with girls in science and math. A teacher will often help a boy do an experiment by explaining how to do it, while when a girl asks for assistance the teacher will often simply do the experiment, leaving the girl to watch rather than do.”
4. If You Are a Female Teacher, Consider Specializing in STEM and Continually Offer Example of Women in STEM Careers
Female role models have been shown to have a tremendous impact on young girls. As Suzanne Sontgerath, assistant director of admissions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said in a US News article, “Probably one of the biggest motivating factors … is the use of role models and what role modeling can do for these women in terms of actually being able to visualize themselves in those types of careers. Watching other girls who are cool and still interested in these areas is really valuable.”
Daniela Keeler, graduate of the Master of Education Degree from the University of San Diego, has experienced the power of a specialization or higher degree first-hand.
After completing her masters, Daniela landed her current role as an instructional technology coach teaching literacy in the digital age and helping teachers effectively integrate technology into their classrooms.
She says that getting her masters allowed her to focus her teaching on the students, and their needs. She says, “I have so much more understanding of the learning process behind literacy in the digital age and what it means to get there. I feel like I bring a lot to the table for my team in terms of what we should be focusing on – and it’s not just the technology, it’s the student learning as well. Because of the master’s program, I find myself focusing much more than my peers on student learning and comprehension in regards to technology in the classroom and digital literacy.”
At the University of San Diego we offer a 100% online Master of Education with a Specialization in STEAM, taking STEM to the next level. This nationally accredited program can be completed in as little as 20 months and was designed specifically for experienced educators like you interested in shaping the future of learning and innovation.
By: Paty DeSaracho, University of San Diego (CA), MEd