Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Jane Goodall. They pushed past gender barriers and broke new ground in STEM fields. Yet even as we celebrate them during Women’s History Month, we note that science and technology jobs continue to be dominated by men. Despite growing efforts to engage girls in science, women still hold only a quarter of all STEM jobs, the same percentage they held in 2000.
Informal science programs have great potential to attract young girls to STEM fields. A broad study of out-of-school time (OST) science programs found that, across all polled programs, girls accounted for 56 percent of program populations, on average—and much more for certain organization types. But simply attracting girls to OST science programs isn’t enough. Programs need to implement strong, girl-specific curricula and instructional practices that equip girls to deal with negative social pressures and prepare them to be competitive in STEM fields.
A much-lamented factor contributing to girls’ disengagement from STEM subjects is the lack of female role models. As a result, OST programs have increasingly focused on introducing girls to local female STEM professionals—for example, through the national Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. But in order to feel truly engaged and empowered, girls need more than positive examples; they need inspirational and dynamic women to whom they can relate. Techbridge’s guide to “Creating Connections with Role Models,” provides useful tips and tools for making lessons from female role models resonate and stick.
In her Afterschool Matters article, “And Girl Justice for All,” youth development expert Ann Muno attributes the gender gap in academic success to a failure by society to educate girls and young women about the opportunities they now have as a result of the civil rights and women’s movements. Muno calls for greater intentionality in after-school programs and offers practical advice for implementing research-proven, girl-specific practices in OST programs.
These are just a couple approaches to helping girls develop life-long passions for STEM. If you want to start implementing girl-specific practices in your program, learn from the pros in “Effective STEM Programs for Adolescent Girls,” which describes key elements of three successful programs.