By Anurag Gupta
The state of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education affects a nation’s economic and social prosperity. Despite significant variance between countries and within STEM professions, women and girls are still underrepresented in STEM education and careers. In addition to the pay gap that results from women’s under representation in STEM fields, the gender gap in these fields results in an inefficient use of talent and labour and a lost potential for economies.
According to the equality equation (World Bank report), in primary education school enrollment is 88.2% for girls and 90.5% for boys. Globally, girls and boys are likely to enter and complete primary education, with completion rates of 89.1% for girls and 89.9% for boys. For secondary education, the study shows lower enrollment and completion rates, but similar overall trends. Enrollment rates for girls and boys are the same at 66.3% However, when it comes to completing secondary education, the enrollment rate for girls is 76.6% compared to boys which is 75.7%.
Two international tests – the program for international student assessment (PISA) and the trends in international mathematics and science study (TIMSS) help shed light on STEM performance which shows that in STEM learning, girls often achieve equal or better grades than boys in science and mathematics. Globally, 115 women for every 100 men are enrolled in higher education, yet women are less likely to enrol in STEM subjects, especially engineering, computer science, and physics.
The study reveals surprising data on male and female participation in Engineering, Manufacturing, or Construction Industry:
Female enrollment – 7%, Male enrollment – 22%.
Natural sciences, mathematics, and statics: Female enrollment – 5%, Male enrollment – 6%.
Information and Communication Technologies– Female Enrollment 3%, Male enrollment 8%
Women are also underrepresented in Research- an essential proxy for STEM careers globally. Females constitute only 39% of the total STEM researchers.
If enrollment and test scores are not lower for girls and women, what drives the STEM gender gap?
Biases and stereotypes – a large and growing body of evidence pointing to how stereotypes and biases influence gender gaps in STEM.
Classrooms – Teachers at large believe that STEM is easier for boys in comparison to girls.
Home – Parents show greater preference when their sons work in STEM fields. Gender stereotypes in families correlate with girls’ maths performance.
Workplace – women face gender-related discrimination earned less than a man doing the same job, are treated as if they are not competent, small slights at work, received less support from senior leaders, feel isolated in the workplace, and are passed over the most critical assignment, turned down for a job, denied for promotion. Women face discrimination in the workplace, especially in male-dominated STEM fields. This could discourage them from applying to STEM careers, leading to a greater brain drain from these careers.
So what Initiatives can be taken to change this phenomenon present in our society?
Correct gender biases in learning material – In Zimbabwe, biographies of women who have succeeded in male-dominated fields helped to shift the career aspirations of girls from traditional to non-traditional careers, and in Israel, children using sex-neutral reading textbooks identify more activities as appropriate for both women and men relative to their peers with more stereotypical materials.
Engaging parents of girls in STEM – Reshaping parental attitude towards the participation of girls in these fields. even a one-day event engaged parents of girls in STEM and helped reshape parental attitudes about girls in engineering.
Role Models and mentors – Female role models are especially salient, providing examples of traits and achievements that can contribute to success. These can include female STEM professionals, mentors, teachers, and even peers.
Introducing STEM with the correct approach – Introduction of STEM with the correct approach is crucial at an early stage. Schools should promote a culture of “Learning by Doing’ or Experiential learning which ensures students are getting Hands-on Experience with Real-Life Applications. Innovation & 21st Century Skills Development, which is the need of the hour, is what is focused at the best.
The Labor Market – There is a wide range of options to create inclusive and more equitable workplaces, which are relevant beyond STEM jobs.
-To start, address potential gender biases in job descriptions, explore joint evaluations of candidates, and explore salary history bans.
-Overall, robust parental leave and flexible work policies, employer-supported childcare, and anti-sexual harassment policies are also key.
-And, collect sex-disaggregated data across organizations on various dimensions like gender pay gaps, representation, training opportunities, and career development outcomes to help close gender gaps in employment.
The author of this article is founder, STEMROBO Technologies