What do you want to be when you grow up?
Children who hear this come up with a variety of answers. Some practical and others not so practical, for example, becoming a wizard. But, for young girls interested in science, these dreams of becoming a scientist may fade over time.
When you ask the same girl a few years later what she wants to be when she grows up she may instead reply, “I don’t know.” But, we need women in STEM and we need to learn how to encourage young women to enter these fields.
This is because STEM fields are more commonly associated with men. STEM fields include science, technology, engineering, and math. Stereotypes related to these fields can affect young women from an early age.
For example, the young female student may begin to internalize that boys are better at math than them. They may hear this said allowed or it may be implied.
But, these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. Read on to find out how to encourage girls to follow their STEM career goals.
Women in STEM: How to Encourage Our Female Students
We need more female role models in STEM. And, it starts with us as teachers encouraging young female students to follow their STEM dreams.
Women constantly encounter their fair share of stereotypes. Sometimes it’s the academic stereotypes that affect us most as a society. These are the stereotypes that pigeon hole people into careers based on their identity.
This could be their race, ethnicity, or gender. These types of stereotypes can easily erode one’s confidence and cause them to seek out an entirely different field. And, this also applies to young men who are deterred from following “more feminine” fields of study.
However, as educators, we know that these stereotypes have no legitimate basis. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t affect us all. And, we can certainly witness this by the lack of women in the STEM field.
So, how can we encourage young women to enter the STEM fields? Explore the following ways to encourage young women to enter STEM so we can break down stereotypes and barriers.
1. Acknowledge Biases
To start, you need to acknowledge that these biases exist. You also need to look at your own biases related to STEM and think about how they may affect your students. Everyone has biases, but if we want our female students to join STEM we need to be aware of how we speak to them, what we say to them, and what lessons we teach.
Take a look at your lesson plans. Does any of the language or content aim to engage male students instead of female students? Make changes as needed and know that this exercise will help you grow as an educator.
2. Talk About Women in STEM
So often our textbooks outline the accomplishments of men in history. And, while men have had more academic opportunities in the past, there are still female scientists and engineers worth mentioning.
Talk about women in STEM as often as possible. Offer up as many opportunities to focus on these women during your lessons. You could also complete a project about women in STEM to allow students to understand their value and presence in the STEM community.
Most years I have my class complete a project about famous women in science. Enter your email address below and I’ll send you a copy of the assignment.
Where should I send your project?
3. Create Relatable Content
Female students need to know what possible careers there are in STEM. Some of them may be interested in STEM careers, but simply don’t understand what they are. They instead might shift towards a more “feminine” version of their dreams instead.
To help female students, provide them with relatable content. This content can be both feminine and masculine in nature to emphasize that STEM is applicable to many fields of study. For example, you could discuss the science behind make-up, how to code a website, or how math is used in accounting.
However, you also want to make sure that these subjects aren’t solely directed towards female students. A male student may also want/need to hear about the science of make-up. The goal isn’t to counteract these stereotypes, but to broaden your students’ understanding of where STEM fields are applicable.
4. Engaging Lesson Plans
We all know how a boring lesson plan turns out. Students either get antsy or they fall asleep. STEM classes need to be fun and they need to be engaging to female students.
One way to create an engaging lesson plan is to use Project Based Learning guidelines. Create a roadmap for students to follow while allowing them to choose a STEM topic that interests them most. PBL guidelines will also allow them to work in groups which could help them to engage even more with the material.
5. Be a Mentor
Lastly, it’s important to be a mentor. To be a mentor, you need to be available to help your female students and encourage them whenever possible. If you are female, it is important to also tell them your story and how you succeeded in STEM. If you’re a male, bring in successful female speakers to talk with your class. This can be done live or via video chat.
This will give them hope that they, too, can be successful.
Did you create a website? Did you win a math award in high school? Talk about your STEM interests and achievements with female students as much as possible to be a great mentor.
Women in STEM: Our Role in Change
Increasing the number of women in STEM starts with us as educators. As educators, we must act as role models for change and be the first to shut down any and all harmful stereotypes.
Whenever an opportunity presents itself, we must use these strategies to enact change. We should also be cognizant of how these stereotypes may affect us personally. This because our own personal beliefs and views may be unconsciously affecting our students as well.
Speaking with other teachers and parents may also present additional opportunities to spread awareness about women in STEM. It’s also a good idea to start a woman in STEM club or campaign at your school to begin breaking down these barriers.
If we are passionate about getting more women in STEM, then we must take action. We must encourage our young female students whenever we can. STEM can be fun for everyone and it is certainly a field that anyone can excel in with the proper knowledge, dedication, and support.
The best way to get your kids learning about women in science is to get them researching the accomplishments women have made. I use this project each year to get my kids doing that. Just enter your email address to download it.
Where should I send your project?