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3 Ways to Advance Women and Girls in Science
By admin February 11, 2019

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Every day is a great day to celebrate women and girls in the field of science. February 11th is marked as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Women and girls remain underrepresented in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields. So, what is holding so many women and girls from entering the industry?

First, gender stereotypes and gender bias underlie the gender inequality that is ever present in many career tracks. Early childhood years are crucial to forming an identity and worldview. Factors that shape that worldview are exposure to a variety of activities, parenting, and school environment. Girls are encouraged and often expected to enter careers associated with caretaking and education, while boys are more likely encouraged to pursue a career in technology and engineering. Girls need to see themselves represented in such fields that are typically dominated by men.

Second, how and where they see that representation is important. Children play with toys and watch cartoons that teach them the lessons and skills they will use throughout their development. According to a research study done by the Institution for Engineering and Technology, 31% of STEM toys are listed as “for boys” as compared to 11% for girls. Manufactures can close that gap by introducing new toys that are aimed at girls. Goldieblox has engineering games aimed at girls and FurReal has toy pets that children can code. Lego also now have kits where real-life women in science are the characters in toy kits.

Mattel and National Geographic are partnering for a new Barbie line that shows her as an astrophysicist, polar marine biologist, wildlife photojournalist, and more. One study conducted by researchers Aurora Sherman and Eileen Zurbriggen found that playing with Barbie for five minutes had a negative impact on a girl’s career aspirations. Playing with Doctor Barbie was no different than playing with Fashion Barbie because Barbie is a sexualized toy that presents an unattainable figure and appearance that reinforces cultural ideas about a woman’s place in society, the researchers suggest. While expanding the career profiles of prominent toys and figures to be more representative of women and girls at work is a first step, but is insufficient when it comes to the grand tasks that have to be undertaken to achieve gender equality. Access to books, telescopes and a bug-collecting instrument, detached from an unrealistic Barbie doll figure, would be a more effective way to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM.

Third, lack of access and inclusion of women and girls into STEM fields continues. The pace of change in education and the tech industry has not been equal. Students need hands-on experience, not just the lecture-based or textbook-based model of instruction. Encouraging high school students to think about going to a technical school, receiving specialized certificates and joining apprenticeship programs is one way to increase girls in STEM. Teachers and schools have to reevaluate the curriculum to make STEM education more attainable. Programming focusing on girls is an extremely beneficial targeted approach to addressing the gender and science chasm.

Apps and Girls, is a program founded by Carolyne Ekyarisiima in Tanzania, provides coding classes, entrepreneurship skills, and mentorship through bootcamps, school events, clubs, internship opportunities and more. The program has reached thousands of girls, some of whom have gone on to create startups and win international awards. Investment of community resources, and collaboration between industry and education sector, together, can advance the skill sets of so many people, especially for women and girls.

 

For more information:

Sorry, Mattel, Astrophysicist Barbie is not the Way to Get More Girls in STEM

In Focus: International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Closing the tech gender gap starts in childhood

Closing the Skills Gap in STEM

 


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