It is known that women are not well represented in the industries of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM). Only 35% of students enrolled on STEM courses at UK universities are women and a pitiful 22% of jobs in STEM are held by women, dropping to 16% in IT. All of these figures become even worse when you delve into representation of women of colour.
What’s the big problem?
You may ask. Maybe girls are just less interested in things like maths and science, and why is it so important that they should be?
Well, we have seen from books like “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” by Caroline Criado Perez, that the lack of women’s voices in product design has symptoms that range from the uncomfortable to the life threatening. Most offices are five degrees too cold for women, because the formula to determine their temperature was developed in the 1960s based on the metabolic resting rate of a 40-year-old, 70kg man; women’s metabolisms are slower. Cars are tested against crash dummies with the body of “Reference Man”, meaning that although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt.
Furthermore, the lack of women’s representation in highly paid STEM fields, is undoubtedly contributing to the gender pay gap. The average full time salary for men in their 30s is £6,447 more than their female counterparts, a figure that jumps to £11,566 in their 40s. While the gender pay gap is a complicated phenomenon with many compounding factors, an imbalance of women in highly paid industries is an important one.
A problem for the kids
This is a problem that starts at a young age. According to UN Women, by the age of six, girls consider boys more suited to “really really smart” activities than other own gender, despite the fact that a recent study of 104 children from ages 3 to 10 found similar patterns of brain activity in boys and girls as they engaged in basic math tasks. They concluded that there was no evidence of a biological pre-disposition for boys to be better at maths than girls.
By the time girls reach their teenage years, this is manifested in girls estimating their academic performance to lesser than it actually is. Meanwhile, boys significantly over estimate their academic performance. All this in spite of the fact that girls consistently outrank boys in test results.
As if concerns about academic capabilities aren’t enough of a limitation for girls, we still see toys targeted to boys that encourage experiments and building, while ‘girls toys’ often emphasis home making or beauty. Even when companies do attempt to target girls with STEM products, they often miss the mark, with saccharine pink packaging and a focus on all things glittery.
The good news is, we’ve got a plan…
One thing that our programme is built on is the idea that early intervention can stop these negative gender stereotypes from taking root. By showing girls examples of women who have defied and exceeded what was expected of them, and giving girls a chance to explore new ideas in a safe, single gendered environment, we know we can create space for our them to achieve their potential.
At GFS we believe that you can’t be what you can’t see. That’s why our groups are teaming up with the Stemettes to offer new engaging sessions on a diverse range of inspiring women in the field of STEM. What’s more, they focus on incredible, present day women who are making strides and achievements now, not in the past. The sessions not only celebrate these women’s achievements, but give girls the chance to get their hands dirty with fun experiments that take the scary unknown out of STEM. Check out the awesome sessions below:
- Zaha Hadid – ground breaking female architect
- Dr Eugenia Cheng – mathematician whose best-selling book teaches maths through baking!
- Merritt Moore – ballet dancer and quantum physicist
- Katherine Johnson – mathematician who made early space missions possible
- Gillian Bullen – super cool Design and Development Engineer for Virgin Atlantic
- Angela Taylor – night-schooled her way to become a Software Engineer at Google
- Lucy Beard – mathematician who conceived the idea of 3D printed shoes
- Florence Adepoju – Cosmetic Scientist who owns her own beauty range
- Nina Tandon – co-founder of the world’s first company to grow living human bones for skeletal reconstruction
- Hannah Fry – mathematician, author, associate professor AND science presenter
Want to help?
If you’re feeling inspired about engaging girls with science, tech, medicine or engineering, consider giving a gift with purpose this Christmas. Equipment for encouraging girls to be involved in STEM activities is highly sought after across all of our groups. Why not gift a (non-pink!) chemistry set or a coding workshop to a GFS group on behalf of a loved one? You can find these and loads of other empowering gifts at our new online shop.