Why Are so Few Women and Girls Working and Studying STEM?

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The shortage of women working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields is of growing concern. Especially when you consider that on average STEM jobs earn roughly 75% more than the national US average! In the interest of closing gender pay gaps, it’s essential that more women enter STEM fields.

Not just for equality, but for the economy! It’s estimated that if women were properly represented in the computer science work force we would have an additional 1.8 million computer scientists. This is exemplified by the fact that every job in high tech fields creates 4.3 jobs in goods and services industries! Basically, if more women entered STEM fields it would promote gender equality, reduce unemployment and stimulate the economy. Sounds great, right?The lack of women in STEM

We’ve just thrown around a bunch of STEMtistics, but what’s the root cause here?

You guessed it, more stats! When you start to dig around education stats for girls, it becomes clear that the problem is systemic. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D) found that around the world girls generally outperform boys in science. However, this is not the case in the U.S and parts of Western Europe, where the opposite is true. This shows us what we already knew, that girls are clearly capable of succeeding in science, but are held back due to a cultural phenomenon.

30% primary school teachers

Another study in the journal of Child Development found stereotypes about math being predominantly a boys subject can set in as early as 2nd grade. “In the United States, boys are more likely to see science as something that affects their life” says Andreas Schleicher, a researcher at the O.E.C.D. These stereotypes are reinforced by the fact that only 30% of primary school teachers feel confident enough to encourage girls to participate in science. It’s evident that this is a complex issue resulting from a combination of stereotypes and a lack of resources & incentives. But what can be done?

Could STEM Toys Be the Answer?

STEM toys are educational toys which develop science, technology, engineering and math skills through play. They range from building & programming your own robots, to exploring microscopes, to constructing your own models with LEGO. They help lay the foundations for a career in STEM fields, and the best part is there’s something for everyone! From babies to adults, it’s easy to find great toys that suit. However, could it be counter-intuitive? At a time when many toy retailers are removing gender labels, are we just playing into stereotypes?

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STEM toys for girls may not hold all the answers, but inspiring girls with science from a young age is definitely part of the solution. Since occupational stereotypes can set in as early as 4 years old, the toys kids are playing with are extremely important. By introducing girls to educational toys at an early age it will help to break these stereotypes and get girls interested in STEM fields.

Mark Coster, BSc(Hons) PhD MRACI CChem
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