The STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields are important. One of the saddest realities of our field is the huge drop in the percentage of women in computer science over the past few decades. The Girl Scouts Research Institute took a good look at why that’s happening and how to change it. (PDF)

After surveying 852 teen girls, the institute split the results into two groups: STEM Girls (girls that are interested in STEM) and non-STEM girls (girls that are not interested in STEM).

Some of my takeaways:

  • Girls are extremely interested (74%) in STEM (pg. 8)
  • Having parents or family friends in STEM careers seems and doing hands-on science activities seems to have a huge impact. (pg. 14)
  • “Girls want to change the world, and help people. Eighty-eight percent of all girls want to make a difference in the world, and 90% want to help people.” How awesome is that? You can change the world in a STEM career. Doctors save patients, but they rely on technology to help them. Commuters drive safely across a bridge because the engineer made safety a major aspect of her design. (pg. 27)
  • STEM girls are “likely attributing their future success to their internal abilities rather than external forces”. They are less likely to believe that they’ll be famous. (pg. 11)
  • Gender barriers hold girls back from pursuing STEM. They think it’s “only for boys” or feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a group or class. This is where getting girls interested in STEM is as much or more on the shoulders of the men in this male-dominated industries. (pg. 19)
  • African American and Hispanic girls are much less likely to know someone in a STEM career. (pg. 21)
  • African American and Hispanic girls are more likely to value a high paying career vs. one that they enjoy. This is likely due to the large amount of poverty in those populations. (pg. 23)
  • African American and Hispanic girls see the gender barriers more than Caucasian girls. They believe they wouldn’t be treated equally, wouldn’t get hired, or may be subject to sexual harassment at work. (pg. 23)

The barriers to women and people of color in this industry are inexcusable. Some are subtle or subconscious, but others are all too real. I believe it’s only a few bad apples that do the terrible things you read about in the news, but it’s up to all of us to make sure those actions are not tolerated. Women help organizations make better decisions, be more creative and innovative, and have a better environment when everyone is involved.

So, how can we help?

  • Check out the research’s Tips for Adults.
  • #1 tip from the report: Girls are interested in STEM! Talk to them like they are!
  • Share what you do with kids at schools. Knowing someone in a STEM field goes a long way.
  • Show girls how they can help people and change the world through STEM by doing so yourself.
  • Hire girls! We’re close to 33% women for our internship this summer.
  • Don’t enforce the gender barriers and stereotypes that are making middle and high school girls lose interest in STEM and keeping great people out of our profession.

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