How to get more girls into STEM & keep them in tech careers

For the last few years there’s been an increased focus on how to get more girls into STEM fields. But that’s only the first step.  But if organizations want to be successful in the not so far away future, keeping young women interested in tech careers is just as critical.

Programs to get girls into coding, engineering, robotics and other STEM fields are beginning to make a difference not only in the way young women view learning about technology, but also in them considering a job in the tech world after graduating.

Start early to get more girls interested in STEM. Photo Credit: Andy Kelly- Unsplash

Start early to get more girls interested in STEM. Photo Credit: Andy Kelly- Unsplash

Wanna Know How to Get More into STEM? Early Introduction to Technology

Some studies show that toys can teach children important skills. Yet, contrary to what you might think, it seems that toys are actually getting more gendered than ever.  Girls continue to be targeted with more and more princesses that foster stereotypes that tend to stick with young girls, and boys with building sets that tend to encourage engineering skills.

According to Reshma Saujan of Girls Who Code, girls are “afraid of trying something they might not excel at right away.” This makes it easy for them to lose interest in things like coding, which is a process of trial and error where mistakes are not only unavoidable, but completely necessary. Teaching girls to be brave from an early age, to allow themselves to make mistakes and try new things, seems to be a key ingredient in keeping them interested.

Parents and educators play an essential part in keeping girls interested and helping them develop both skills and confidence. You can help by encouraging a balance in your kids’ toys and choosing activities you can do as a family on a regular basis. Remember, it’s not about taking all “girly stuff” away, but rather about introducing a larger variety of options and truly sending the message that anything is possible if they work hard and persevere.

Educators will have to find new ways to help girls connect with STEM subjects, providing good role models, creating programs that cater to their particular interests. They should also encourage girls to keep trying, not shy away from competition and to use their voice. The “one-size-fits-all” approach isn’t working and, unsurprisingly, girls need to be given work they can be passionate about to be lured out of their comfort zone.

Offer girls toys that encourage building things- Photo Credit: Rick Mason- Unsplash

Offer girls toys that encourage building things- Photo Credit: Rick Mason- Unsplash

Closing the “Interest Cliff”

But it’s not just about integrating girls into programs that have been largely built for boys. It’s necessary to develop better computer programs in schools with different options that appeal to a more diverse group of students, with projects that girls can be invested and involved in. Studies show that girls do stick around when projects are personally relevant.

A Microsoft-conducted survey found that young girl’s interest in STEM fields peaks when they’re 11 or 12, and drops significantly between 15 and 16. This “interest cliff” happens in some places around the world where young women get the message that these fields are not for them.

So, you can help avoid this interest drop by encouraging your girls to:

  • Plan vacations that have a volunteering component such us building homes, schools, etc. Organizations such as TECHO are ideal.
  • Organize trekking trips that include geological or botanical exploration. They can prepare ahead of time information about the sites they will visit.
  • Visit hands-on science museums.
  • Visit engineering-heavy plants such as NASA’s Space Center in Houston, Boeing in Seattle, etc.
  • Find conferences and movies with inspiring female protagonists. (Hidden figures, for example)
  • Look for programs where they can meet other teens who are also interested in robotics, engineering, programming, etc.

Stay involved and reward your daughters’ efforts. Remind them often how important it is to try even when the outcome isn’t always successful. And even most importantly, encourage them to keep trying when they make mistakes.

How to get more girls into STEM fields. Photo Credit: Emma Matthews. Digital Content Production- Unsplash

How to get more girls into STEM fields. Photo Credit: Emma Matthews. Digital Content Production- Unsplash

Game Changers to Get More Girls Into STEM 

Creating opportunities for young girls to meet women to look up to is also ideal. Some studies show that girls are 17% more likely to feel powerful working on STEM activities if they personally know a woman in these fields. Finding motivation not just in education, but in the future ahead.

It’s encouraging to find that programs looking to get more girls into STEM and hooked on coding from an early age have become more and more common, with platforms like the Girls Who Code Movement, Canada Learning Code, Microsoft’s DigiGirlz and the African Girls Can Code Initiative by UN Women, an Africa-wide program that aims to empower girls through digital literacy and coding.

There’s also Kode with Klossy, a scholarship program created by model Karlie Kloss sending girls aged 13-18 to coding camps where they can be mentored by female leaders in tech.

And social media movements such as #ILookLikeASurgeon and #ILookLikeAnEngineer are also sources of inspiration.

Initiatives like Girls in ICT Day and the She Can STEM look to empower young women with an interest in STEM fields and encourage them to stick around, introducing them to role models in their fields of interest. These success stories can sometimes make the difference between choosing a career in these fields or giving up.

A New Kind of Education in Tech

Some software schools are trying to find new ways of tearing down inclusion barriers and shift the numbers in their classrooms and, hopefully, the workforce.

To achieve this, the Holberstone School of Software Engineering, for example, has an automated application process built on a challenge that can take 8 to 80 hours to complete. It’s built for beginners and ignores the applicants’ background, ethnicity, gender and experience to focus only on the motivation of the person taking on the challenge.

To get more girls into STEM fields and help them stay in tech careers will take a village. There are some hopeful signs that we are taking steps in the right direction.

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Aline Cerdan Verástegui

Mexico City-born freelance writer, translator, ghostwriter, editor and Red Shoe Movement contributor with a love of live music and graphic novels. Has collaborated with Yahoo!, Blouin Artinfo, Yahoo! en Español, Savvy Heels, Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) among others.
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