By Abiee Harris
When asked about their future career choices, just 3% of girls surveyed by Girlguiding said they wanted to be engineers and just 6% wanted to be scientists. These are exciting jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) area, so why do so few girls want to do them?
I was lucky at school and was actively encouraged to pursue STEM subjects, to the point that I studied maths and physics at A-Level. However, I’m aware this isn’t always the case, and research shows more girls than boys drop STEM subjects as they move through the education system despite being just as competent in these subjects.
I think there are a variety of reasons for this waning interest but I feel a key factor is the feeling among girls that STEM subjects are for boys. In fact, Girlguiding’s 2014 Girls’ Attitudes Survey showed a massive 56% of girls felt this way (see below).
This is further compounded by the fact a third of girls felt they would be teased for taking STEM subjects.
Although my experience with STEM subjects has been positive, and I was never teased for pursuing them, there weren’t many other girls in my A-Level maths and physics classes. For those of us who did take the classes, I think it was important to show ourselves and others in the school that it could be done and there was nothing wrong with taking those subjects.
I’ve found that having role models is beneficial but I feel there is a lack of female examples – either teaching STEM subjects or working in related careers. I have to think very hard to name a well-known female in the STEM sector, despite being able to think of lots of men in the field. Marie Curie was the first female to come to mind for the fantastic and pioneering work she undertook into radiotherapy. She is still widely talked about and I’m sure she is still a positive role model to many. I definitely feel we need more women like her to lead the way. We also need to hear more about these women, as I’m sure there are lots of amazing females working in STEM whom we simply just don’t know about.
A couple of months ago I attended a conference to celebrate the wonderful experiences women have had in STEM-related careers. I was so inspired by all the women who spoke at the event, that I almost changed my career path to become a pilot. This shows what a massive difference having (and hearing from) inspiring female role models can make.
Talking to friends outside of school has shown me that without being encouraged into STEM subjects or having role models to look up to, many girls feel they can’t pursue the careers they would like to.
Looking ahead, I strongly feel we need to do more to engage girls in STEM subjects, show them what they can achieve and help build their confidence.
Girlguiding is great for this and offers Science Investigator and Computer badges. However, more needs to be done on a wider scale to inspire girls and tackle misconceptions around STEM subjects.
Abiee Harris is a Girlguiding Advocate