As women continue to break glass ceilings, the question of, “How do we get more girls into STEM fields?” keeps rising. This question, in particular, is a good one, simply for the fact that unfilled manufacturing positions are increasing. To portray an even amount of women vs. male positions we must take a competitive step forward. Research shows that only about 25% of workers in manufacturing fields are women. This difference is felt all across STEM fields despite the strength that the female populace resembles in STEM courses. For example, girls comprise about 46% in advance placement math courses/tests. Unfortunately, their representation is not as strong when it comes to entering computer science courses. About 20% of females go into these studies. Research done by PBS shows that 74% of teens consider engineering once they learn of the benefits that come with the profession. These benefits consist of economic benefits and societal impacts that they could have on the world.
It begins with one step…
Reshaping a societal norm is not an easy thing to do; however, it is possible. With each step that we take toward normalizing the thought of women in STEM fields the more appropriate will this career choice be for women entering the workforce.
Break the Myths
In order to start the conversation, we have to put an end to the lies that are surrounding girls from the moment they enter the world.
Changing the topic is easier said than done. If we talk to young girls or women who are currently not interested in manufacturing, they will provide us with a list of negative thoughts. Thoughts starting from it’s a dirty job, the environment is hot and cold, it’s repetitive, their personality doesn’t fit, they’re not good at it, and it’s just not interesting. After hearing such long lists of negative opinions, many begin to believe it. Therefore, we must change emotion that is attached to this field. Marcia Arndt, a board member of the Nut, Bolts & Thingamajigs foundation, said manufacturing is highly technological, and it is. You don’t have to get too dirty to operate a CNC machine, load the machine material, and operate the controller. You certainly won’t get dirty drawing up CAD models and CAM tool paths. Although there are jobs that are dirty, let’s not allow that to be the primary driver of this topic.
Organizations like MakerGirl believe it’s essential to grab the attention of girls between ages 7-10 years old because by middle school many of them have already lost interest. Although this appears to be true, it’s important for us to keep in mind that it still doesn’t have to be too late to attract a girl who has passed this age bracket. There are several things we need to do to get more girls in manufacturing and STEM field as a whole. The term “we” involves parents, schools, STEM programs, the media, and industry.
Parents, Impact Your Children
We realize that you may not have been raised in the same mind frame—a mind frame that is accepting of women taking that next big step toward equality and yes, girls can do what boys can do. If you want to impress this mindset into the lives of your children, consider the following opportunities:
- Encouraging girls to find a passion for STEM through social activities and gifts given to them
- Putting your daughters in STEM camps and showing interest as a parent
- Buying your daughter STEM-related toys and games for holidays and Birthday
- Promoting more companies like Project MC^2 and Nancy B’s Science Club—companies that encourage girls in STEM fields
- Project MC^2 has toys such as the “Smart Pixel Purse” that allows girls to customize the design of their purse with coding, incorporating both fashion and technology – You may not think it, but changing the color of a robotic toy can and does go a long way!
- DIY makeup kits for lip balm and more are great ways to demonstrate that chemistry and other STEM careers have more than “dirty” jobs
It is crucial that parents share with their children that social media is not right. There may be some truths to it; however, you cannot allow your child to grow up thinking these are the ideas they should model their lives around. Create a space for them to be their own person—boy or girl.
Teaching Girls about STEM: School and Programs
Here are some things that school systems and/or extracurricular programs can do to increase interest for girls in STEM:
- Give girls a concrete sense of what STEM skills mean in the workplace and teach how they can continue to develop these skills today to achieve their dreams of tomorrow
- Inform youth of the economic benefits that come with STEM careers
- Allow and encourage students to take factory and company tours
- Implement assignments and projects that involve critical thinking, analysis, coding, problem-solving, and other technical skills
- Create displays that highlight and show women who excel in technology-related jobs and careers
- Provide women mentors – Organizations such as Women in Manufacturing and Society of Women Engineers can play a huge role in ushering in the next wave of females to the industry. It is essential for girls to be able to envision themselves in the STEM field.
- Find and promote career paths where their creativity can be used
- For example, you might encourage a career in design and/or architecture if the subjects of art and math are a strong suit/interest to a young girl
- Use simple, free, easy-to-use design software like TinkerCAD (TinkerCAD is a Drag-and-drop CAD – Computer Aided Design – program) in the computer classes. You may take this a step further by incorporating 3D printers and/or CNC machines in the classroom to show how ideas/electronic designs can transform into physical objects through the use of STEM.
- Create and facilitate a safe space for girls to both fail and succeed in tech-related classes, projects, extracurricular activities, and more
Industry Impacts Do Matter
It is up to each individual company to find skilled women and to change the stigma associated with our industries. In order to do this, companies should host recruiting events at elementary, middle, and high schools seeking girls who excel in STEM (or even for girls who aren’t yet sure about their career path). Yes – hosting recruiting events at the elementary and middle school level may seem counter-intuitive; however, as we can see throughout the US with the current manufacturing “skills gap”, it is very difficult to recruit working-age talent for jobs/careers that said talent do not know to exist.
It is critical to provide these eye-opening experiences to our youth before they are locked into a career path. Companies can invite and sponsor these students to be a part of a program (apprenticeship/internship/extracurricular activity/etc.), camp, and/or STEM-based competitive team. Although many young girls may not yet know their potential in the manufacturing/STEM field, Industry needs to do better to spot, mentor, and support all young girls to change both their mindset and break the stigma.
“You need to see someone who looks like you to see that you belong in that field,” said by MakerGirl member Mary Hadley in an interview done with “WTFFF” podcast.
Whether you are a parent, mentor, or work in the STEM industry, make sure you are actively promoting opportunities for all women to be able to learn about STEM. Doing so enables them to determine if these are industries that they wish to pursue without the societal constraints and stigma that we have become so numb to. Promote a more equal and better tomorrow.