Why women are continuously unrepresented in the STEM industry seems to be a question as old as time. This gender separation begins at a young age in a child’s life, sometime before they are born, the nursery may be filled with dolls for baby girls, and boys get cars, spaceships, and construction toys. These children didn’t ask for theseparation but they grow up with it. Once formal education begins the ends of the spectrum are often too far to be brought back together. How can we adjust the gender gap and introduce more women to STEM?
We would have to complete a cultural shift. To begin this, we need to educate these future engineers earlier. There are a lot of STEM projects done within the middle years of education for children. We must start earlier, by the time these girls reach the middle year age, they have been accustomed to the gender bias for at least a decade. For a young girl in school, it’s difficult to go against the grain. I believe that starting these programs in kindergarten or even preschool would be beneficiary. This allows the girls to make decisions when they first enter formal education. Then if even one girl chose STEM influencedactivities, it makes the transition easier for other girls in the future.
One thing I noticed, while growing up in a small town, is that these programs are unknown and unavailable to girls in rural areas. To reach everyone, STEM should be introduced in the education curriculum. This makes it mandatory to learn and be exposed to. Yes, there is science and math in the curriculum. However, the stigma around these courses still exist, so within the curriculum teach ways to do it non-conservatively. As in, have boat races with household plastics, and have the children build city scapes with cardboard. This slow exposure introduces STEM in a fun way. Children can absorb so much information, the good and bad. So, it is up to the educators to ensure the first experience with STEM is a positive one.
Something I noticed while in post secondary is that many of my female colleagues in STEM were not exposed to the industry in a fun way while in school. However, one realization is that many of us have brothers. So, while growing up with a brother and playing with the boy gendered toys, us girls adapted these problem-solving skills related to STEM. We had early and constant exposure, unknowingly, to STEM from our brothers, and what they are involved in.
So how do we decrease the gender gap in STEM fields? Well, we must start young, it must be understood that the future engineers are the girls that are born into a pink nursery. It is now to make the change, so that not only girls with brothers are involved in STEM, but every girl has the exposure to the wonderfully rewarding diverse fields of the STEM industry.