In the midst of male-dominated fields that can sometimes deter females from entering, mentorship programs are cultivating interest and opening up opportunities to girls in STEM, EdSurge reports. In fact, when it comes to the percentage of girls who understand the relevance of STEM and the possible jobs within it, there's a 20% difference between girls who know a woman in STEM (73%) and those who don't (53%).
Women only make up only 29% of the science and engineering workforce, EdSurge notes, citing data from the National Science Board. And when it comes to computing, Girls Who Code thinks the gender gap is getting bigger — by 2027, they estimate that only 22% of computer scientists will be women, down from 37% in 1995 and 24% in 2017.
It's similar to a need for more diverse teachers that minority students can look up to — even if girls don't get encouragement from a teacher, friend or family member, seeing a woman succeeding in STEM can show them that they can do the same. As David Shapiro, the CEO of Mentor, told EdSurge, "Research shows that life experience and human relationships give us a sense of what’s possible and help us navigate to those possibilities.”
Due to the high demand for STEM workers, entering these fields can make for a successful career. But while women make up roughly half of the labor force, they are vastly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math. And the continued lack of a female presence in these jobs begets a negative cycle — if young girls don’t see women in these occupations, they have fewer role models to look up to and are less likely to visualize themselves in the space in the future.
Getting girls hooked on STEM doesn't have to wait until high school, either. Elementary and middle school years present promising windows of opportunity to introduce girls to the science disciplines. In elementary school, roughly 66% of girls say they're interested in science — practically the same percentage as boys — but in middle school, this number drops due to a loss of confidence and interest. By high school, only 15% of girls are likely to pursue a STEM college major or career.
Jobs in STEM fields are often well-paid and often pay men and women more equitably than other areas — in STEM, women earn 92 cents for every dollar men earn. On average, women are only paid 77 cents per each dollar men earn.
Several organizations, including Million Women Mentors, work to match female STEM figures with young girls who are interested in these fields. The company also provides corporations with information on how they can develop mentoring programs of their own.
School districts can also work to introduce girls to STEM by promoting related activities from an early age and by ensuring they're getting encouragement from teachers to pursue what they're good at or interested in. Additionally, hosting expos that introduce girls to women in science — like Peninsula School District in Washington, which holds a yearly Career And Pathways Expo for middle school girls — connect them to female leaders who they can see as sources of inspiration.