The Future is STEM: Why We Need to Engage Girls Early

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in STEM will have higher than average projected growth in the next ten years but only a small fraction of girls and women are likely to pursue degrees in STEM.

Despite many initiatives and efforts, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields.

In Cracking the Code, a report on STEM education for girls and women put forth by UNESCO, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General states: “Only 17 women have won a Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, or medicine since Marie Curie in 1903, compared to 572 men. Today, only 28% of all of the world’s researchers are women. Such huge disparities, such deep inequality, do not happen by chance.”

The reasons behind why girls and women are underrepresented in STEM fields are complex (see Dr. Yvonne Skipper’s recent KDP blog post).

Microsoft recently funded a research project that indicated that a variety of reasons exist why.  For instance, it was found that girls tend to lose interest in STEM subjects around middle school (Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., Kang, H., & O’Neill, T., 2013). Identity and stereotypes related to membership in STEM fields can have a dampening effect on motivation to pursue STEM for many girls (Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M., 2012). Confidence also plays a big role in motivation and orientation towards STEM fields (Heaverlo, C. (2011). STEM development: A study of 6th-12th grade girls’ interest and confidence in mathematics and science.)

Gladly, research into this critical issue has also demonstrated some proven strategies that work:

  • Teacher and parent influences and role modeling help: studies show encouragement from parents and teachers can have a profound effect on STEM engagement among girls and increases motivation for entering into the field (Rabenberg, T. A., 2013).
  • After-school programs and science clubs: Research also indicates that schools and communities need to invest in and provide space and opportunity for girls to engage in STEM.  (Tyler-Wood, T., Ellison, A., Lim, O., & Periathiruvadi, S., 2012 and Vingilis-Jaremko, L., 2010)
  • Inquiry-based STEM curriculum plays a role: Transforming STEM curriculum from learning and memorizing to doing has, time and time again, shown to elicit interest from all students in STEM: (Burns, H.D. & Staus, N, 2016)

Women make up 49.6% of the world population.

It’s crucial that, as STEM careers and industries grow, women continue to be a strong part of the progression.

The best practices for involving women comes early in their lives through schools, teachers, parents, and communities.

Dr. Mubina Schroeder

Dr. Mubina Schroeder is an Associate Professor at Molloy College, where she co-directs the Cognition and Learning Lab.  She is a Kappa Delta Pi United Nations Professional Representative and serves on the Board of Directors for the United Nations NGO/DPI.


Burns, H. D., Lesseig, K., & Staus, N. (2016, October). Girls’ interest in STEM. In 2016 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.

Tyler-Wood, T., Ellison, A., Lim, O., & Periathiruvadi, S. (2012). Bringing up girls in science (BUGS): The effectiveness of an afterschool environmental science program for increasing female students’ interest in science careers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21(1), 46-55.

Vingilis-Jaremko, L. (2010). How Science Clubs Can Support Girls’ Interest in Science. LEARNing Landscapes, 3(2), 155-160.

Rabenberg, T. A. (2013). Middle school girls’ STEM education: Using teacher influences, parent encouragement, peer influences, and self efficacy to predict confidence and interest in math and science

Tan, E., Calabrese Barton, A., Kang, H., & O’Neill, T. (2013). Desiring a career in STEM‐related fields: How middle school girls articulate and negotiate identities‐in‐practice in science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50(10), 1143-1179.

Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). The role of stereotype threats in undermining girls’ and women’s performance and interest in STEM fields. Sex Roles, 66(3-4), 175-183.

Rabenberg, T. A. (2013). Middle school girls’ STEM education: Using teacher influences, parent encouragement, peer influences, and self efficacy to predict confidence and interest in math and science (Doctoral dissertation, Drake University).

Steinke, J. (2017). Adolescent girls’ STEM identity formation and media images of STEM professionals: Considering the influence of contextual cues. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 716.

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