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5 Ways to Close the Gender Gap in STEM Fields

Posted by Categories: Education, Gifted Students

5 Ways to Close the Gender Gap in STEM Fields | National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)We offer a many STEM-related courses in our SIG programs. I’m always happy when I visit these classes in the summer and see a good percentage of young women in them and also disappointed when I see no girls or very few in them. Our world is increasingly technological and computerized, creating a need for all people to be knowledgeable and many to be innovative in STEM areas. While the gender gap in engineering fields is slowly decreasing, there is still a concerning disparity in the number of women in engineering fields, as compared to men. Considering that February contains National Engineers Week, now is an appropriate time to take another look at this issue, particularly with our concern for young girls with talent and skills not participating in STEM areas to the extent we would like to see.

The U.S Department of Labor expects jobs in engineering to grow by 8% from 2012-2022. As a career field that is vital and growing, all young people, and we think, especially gifted girls, should be encouraged to explore their aptitudes in these areas.

In 2008, 41 percent of college freshman men planned to major in science and engineering, compared to 30 percent of women, according to the National Science Foundation’s Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report.

While women make up over 57% of college graduates, only 14.8% of engineers in the workforce are women. Many women will change out of engineering majors during college as they find the fields uninviting or unappealing during their college years. And, while female engineering majors perform academically just as well as men, they have a tendency to underrate their technical abilities.

Women seem to be more attracted to sciences that are behavioral and biological, while computer science, physics, and engineering are overwhelmingly male. Only 7% of mechanical engineers, 12% of civil engineers, 15% of chemical engineers, and 13% of aerospace engineers are women.

What can we do to increase those percentages in all STEM fields?

There are several categories of ways our society can aid in closing the gender gap in STEM fields.

1. Help young females explore STEM topics early and on a non-threatening basis.

Programs like ours at SIG allow gifted, talented, and creative students to explore engineering and science fields in a non-graded and flexible environment where they can individualize their interests. Other options for gifted students might include online courses, independent studies, mentoring with a professional, or volunteering in a local STEM facility or program.

2. Be an influencer!

Whether an engineer yourself or not, encourage young women to pursue STEM fields. We need to change our lingering societal view that woman are better suited for some roles than men, and vice versa. When you see a young female showing interest in math or science or technology, encourage her to pursue that interest and assure her that she can excel in those fields.

3. Provide meaningful resources.

Provide other resources for young women interested in these fields, including Aspirations in Computing, Girls who Code, SWENext, Design Squad’s website, and organizations to promote female engineering. Many such organizations exist now to try to garner the skills that women can bring to engineering fields.

4. Give positive feedback.

Provide positive feedback to gifted young women about how well they do in STEM areas. Girls actually outperform boys in most subjects, including math and science, but girls discount their actual skill while boys seem to ignore their deficiencies.

5. Engage the family in promoting engineering.

As family members and roles have a great impact on how young women see themselves, be sure that you are modeling and promoting less traditional gender roles so that all youth can visualize themselves in future roles that speak to their goals and aspirations.

If you have experiences with young gifted women going into or rejecting engineering careers, we’d love to hear about your challenges and solutions.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

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