By the time most girls turn 11, their interest in STEM significantly drops—in part because of gender bias and self-consciousness. Here are three ways to break down barriers and help girls expand their curiosity.
1. Capture girls’ imaginations by fourth grade.
Today, 84% of working professionals in science or engineering jobs in the U.S. are white or Asian men. But this isn’t because boys are more naturally inclined towards STEM. In fact, boys and girls start off at a level playing field. The National Girls Collaborative Project reports that girls score almost identically to their male classmates on standardized tests through high school; yet, by the time they are in upper elementary school, they already show a declining interest in pursuing STEM careers.
2. Support gender-neutral products and experiences.
Up until 2016, The Toy Association was still honoring a “Boy Toy of the Year” and a “Girl Toy of the Year” in its annual Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards—the self-described “Oscars” of the toy industry. But the fact is that parents are tired of choosing between the blue aisle and the pink aisle in their local toy stores. Not only does the segregation of toys by gender discourage children from playing with the toys that interest them, but it sends a subtle message that girls should be playing with toys that encourage creativity and empathy and boys should be playing with toys that will help them build spatial reasoning skills. These subtle cues further dissuade both sexes from pursuing their interests.
3. Empower girls to inspire other girls.
According to an online survey commissioned in 2018 by Mattel, 86% of U.S. moms are worried about the kind of role models to which their daughters are exposed. We need to show our girls what empowered women look like. Representation is so important. We need to make a conscious effort to put girls in leading, not secondary, roles. It’s not enough to tell them—we must show them that building and inventing is fun and exciting, and that there’s a place for them in that world.
Let’s Do This
Getting more girls into STEM fields won’t happen overnight, but by making small adjustments in how we communicate to girls, and when, we can make a significant difference in changing the subtle societal subtexts that so often prevent girls from becoming women in STEM.
11-year-old girls are the single biggest lever to address the pipeline problem in tech. Let’s work together to capture their imagination, starting now.
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LittleBits is a proud sponsor of the National PTA STEM + Families program. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service.