Are girls really underrepresented in STEM?
In the US, the workforce is pretty evenly split between men and women, but in STEM fields men make up 73 percent of the workforce to women’s 27 percent. Why?
It’s easy to want to find a well-meaning solution for this disparity, or even to brush it off as unimportant. But achieving a gender parity in STEM fields (particularly computer science, engineering, and programmers, among others) isn’t just a feel-good social justice crusade. The number of open tech jobs far outpaces the population of traditionally qualified candidates—data projections have pointed to a global shortage of 85 million tech workers by 2030.
It’s not a matter of encouraging girls to pursue STEM programs just for the heck of it, to prove they can and earn a good paycheck—it’s a matter of graduating enough highly-skilled workers to meet economic demand.
Still, the imbalanced statistics for the genders in STEM are damning. What can K-12 schools do to play their part in preparing the next generation for a talent-hungry workforce?
Let students lead
Anna Auer, a junior at Pacelli High School in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is pursuing her own career in STEM (currently eyeing a pre-med, clinical lab science path). She wasn’t always on track toward a STEM career—on the contrary, she’s a relative newcomer. She described the way a bio teacher’s style helped lead her to a love of science.
“We picked the way we learned,” she explained. “It was much more our pace, and hands on—I really like learning that way.” Auer describes how at the high school level, she and her peers were given the opportunity to choose their classes. She chose science-based classes and loved them.