If you work in education, you know about STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In recent years, a strong STEM push has been occurring in our schools. The U.S. ranks 27 among developed nations in the proportion of students receiving degrees in science and engineering. The majority of engineering Ph.D’s earned in the U.S. are by citizens of other countries. Twenty-first century jobs demand knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Nowhere has the lack of STEM been more apparent than with girls. In elementary school, girls and boys show similar interest and skill in science and math. The number of girls in STEM starts dropping in middle schools with an even larger drop in high school. Fewer girls majoring in STEM fields in college means fewer female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in our future.
Why the drop in girl’s interests and abilities in STEM areas? Gender bias evident in how we think, play, and behave. Society expects and encouraged boys to build and be good at math. Not so with girls. Consider these statistics about Advanced Placement test takers in 2013 from the College Board:
- Slightly more than half of AP test takers in Biology (59%) and Environmental Science (53%) are girls.
- Calculus AB and Statistics test takers are almost even between the genders.
- Those taking AP tests in Physical sciences, Calculus BC, and Computer Science are significantly more male. For instance, Computer Science A test takers are primarily male (81%).
Things are improving. According to the National Science Foundation, women have earned 57% of undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. But when you break down the numbers according to types of sciences, the view changes. Although the number of women exceed men in biological sciences, that number falls in other areas and is dismally low in engineering.
More needs to be done. Women’s history month is great for introducing girls to the many women scientists who have excelled. Book series like the Girls in Science series by Nomad Press increase interest. The Women of Action series at Chicago Review Press also highlights many female scientists and builders.
Check out the programs and websites that encourage girls in STEM, including: