Girls in STEM

by Wendy Sadler and Rosie Coates

I’ve been speaking today about the issue of the under-representation of girls in STEM subjects at the ‘Science and the Assembly‘ event in Cardiff Bay. You can find the slides below along with a summary of what was said.

At science made simple our mission is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, to engage the wider public with STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) as part of popular culture, and to strengthen connections between researchers and the public.  As such we take a strong interest in research into diversity in STEM.  Here we take a look at the findings of some recent, important reports on diversity STEM with a particular focus on the findings of those reports regarding the opportunities into STEM for women.

The reports also deal with other diversity issues and the problem of retention and promotion of women in STEM.  Whilst these issues cannot be totally disentangled, this post aims to summarise the findings relating to recruitment of girls into STEM only, and to describe how science made simple aims to support the recommendations of these reports.

The Reports

The reports most useful to this discussion are shown below (click on the image to link to the report).

sci and tech committee women in STEM

science grrl through both eyes

diversity in STEM CaSE

Additional insight is provided by:

Gendered Horizons – boys’ and girls’ perceptions of jobs and career choices (Agile Nation project – Chware Teg)

ASPIRES – Young people’s science and career aspirations, age 10-14 – Kings College, London

It’s different for girls – The Institute of Physics (2011)

Closing Doors – exploring gender and subject choice in schools – The Institute of Physics (2013)

…and finally the report I completed last year on behalf of the Science Advisory Council for Wales has ideas on initiatives that help the girls in STEM issue:

Inquiry into STEM engagement and education enrichment activity – Science Advisory Council for Wales (Wendy Sadler)

The Problem

All of the reports detail some aspects of the problem of women’s current representation in STEM. Some of the most startling and worrying statistics include

Participation and retention across STEM from school through to the workforce (Designed by Scienceogram) From CaSE report

Participation and retention across STEM from school through to the workforce
(Designed by Scienceogram) From CaSE report

In addition to this the Science Grrl report highlights that the percentage of female physics A’level students has remained stubbornly at ~20% for the last 20 years.

Just 8% of British engineers and 4% of engineering apprentices are women.

Perhaps most worrying is the gender bias expressed in terms of aspirations by the parents of sons and daughters.

Parents' Reponses to the Question "What type  of job would you most  like your child to pursue  when they finish their  education?” From CaSE report

The Recommendations

The reports all make many recommendations but the themes which appear to be consistent between all three include:

In school

  • Teachers should have more CPD in STEM.  This is especially important for primary teachers.
  • Teachers at all levels should have CPD in avoiding unconscious gender bias.
  • STEM links in schools, secondary and primary with encouragement to real-world creative STEM projects.

Careers services

  • Careers advice services should ensure that STEM advice is accurate and up-to-date and monitor STEM work experience uptake by gender and take steps to address the balance if necessary.
  • Careers advice using role models should focus on breaking down STEM stereotypes rather than trying to showcase female stereotypes as scientists. This should include incorporating male role models with less stereotypical career paths or family/work arrangements as well as female role models.

Wider society

  • Work towards removal of stereotyping messages, whether through toys or societal and family pressures towards certain behaviours for boys and girls.
  • Inclusion of parents and communities in STEM careers experience in schools.

science made simple pledge

  1. science made simple will continue to increase its efforts to forge stronger links between a diverse representation of STEM researchers and school communities.
  2. science made simple will support teachers, in particular at primary school through shows and additional resources, to increase their confidence in delivering STEM messages to their pupils.
  3. science made simple will follow best practice in breaking down stereotypes when using role models.
  4. science made simple will encourage our customers and funders to involve parents and broader communities with our shows and training.  We will actively seek out community partnerships.
  5. science made simple will continue to support organisations with broader societal goals to reduce gender bias included the Let Toys be Toys campaign.
  6. science made simple will speak out against examples of everyday sexism when we encounter them.

You can view the slides from the presentation at this link:

Science and the Assembly (Girls) and get a full notes on the talk here:

Notes on presentation for Science and the Assembly

You can sign the Let Toys be Toys petitions here 
Follow and submit examples of @everydaysexism on twitter


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