Many careers in science, technology, engineering, and math have above average earning potential and job security, but unfortunately girls are underrepresented in advanced STEM coursework, degree programs, and careers.
Experts and women currently in STEM careers say the problem starts very early in grade school, where studies show that fields like science and math tend to be associated with boys, and humanities and arts with young women. In school, these stereotypes can contribute to unconscious biases that lead to young women receiving less encouragement to take on and dream of STEM related careers for themselves.
When CNN asked the question: “How Do We Get Girls Into STEM?”, most respondents agreed that early exposure, strong and persistent encouragement, and building opportunities for girls to meet and learn from other girls and women in STEM-related fields are key.
“It’s important to engage girls in STEM at an early age and keep them interested. Girls start out as strong in math and science as boys, but lose interest along the way; we call this the “leaky pipeline.” Grow the pipeline, keep girls engaged, and we’ll increase the number of women in STEM.” – Patty L. Fagin, Ph.D., Head of School at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart.
“Introduce girls early to role models of other women in STEM. [These women] will mentor them and introduce them to STEM through games and practical learning experiences.” – Regina Agyare, founder of Soronko Solutions
“To get more girls in STEM let’s go for collective action… Of 368,000 high school girls who want to pursue STEM only 4% said they had a mentor encouraging them. Commit to mentoring a girl or young woman in STEM skills.” – Julie Kantor, Chief Partnership Officer at Million Women Mentors
Teens for Food Justice’s all-girls after school program unit, “Girls Mean Business,” was designed with two main goals in mind: 1) to engage girls in hands-on STEM learning, and 2) to empower adolescent girls to develop confidence in their potential to be leaders and changemakers in their community.
Our students learn the science and basic mechanics of hydroponic farming, tend to crops from seed to harvest, and create a business model for selling the produce they grow and using it in recipes that promote healthier eating in their community. In designing their business model, they collaborate to calculate low, accessible prices for the farm’s crops and organize the promotion and structure of the market.
In addition to learning the basics of business, this unit engages girls in critical thinking about what it means to be a social entrepreneur. Our all-women mentor group works to show and teach our girls about strong female role models who have taken the initiative to advocate for food justice, and Teens for Food Justice encourages them to view community challenges as problems they have the power to solve through action.
Now more than ever is the time to invest in the skills and leadership potential of our young women – the future leaders of our society.