Research opens window on girls and STEM

Research opens window on girls and STEM

Ruth Buckley, co-founder of I Wish; Nancy Saunders and Sarah Dillon, from Loreto Abbey; Minister of State for Justice David Stanton and Paula Neary, client director at Accenture Ireland, at the launch of new research by Accenture and I Wish which reveals that parents and teachers are the key influencers on girls’ subjects and career choices.

NEW research by Accenture Ireland and I Wish reveals that parents and teachers are the greatest influence on girls when they make subject and career choices, and girls should receive more education and support to encourage them to take up careers in STEM.

The studies, which included feedback from approximately 3,000 Irish students, parents and teachers, are aimed at attracting more girls and young women into studying, and pursuing careers in, STEM disciplines.

The Accenture research, which covered a cross-section of girls, boys, teachers and parents, builds upon research carried out in 2013 and 2015. It found that:

Almost two thirds of girls (65%) say their parents are most likely to influence subject choices at school, and half said their parents influence their career aspirations.

Despite their high level of influence, only one in four (24%) parents feel “very informed” about the variety of STEM career opportunities and a significant 54% said they have no experience of modern STEM careers to pass onto their children.

More than half of parents (52%) admit to having personally made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys when it comes to STEM subjects and more than half of teachers (53%) have witnessed girls drop STEM subjects in school due to pressure from parents.

Alarmingly, 29% of parents and teachers still perceive STEM disciplines as more closely fitting boys’ brains, personalities, and hobbies.

One in four girls feel there are no financial rewards for a career in STEM.

Almost a quarter of teachers feel that the gender divergence in perceptions of STEM begins between the ages of 7 and 11, with one in 10 teachers believing the gender gap begins to appear before primary school.

The I Wish research, which focused on 2,400 Irish girls aged 14 to 17, pointed to the important role that teachers play, finding that:

When it comes to choosing what to study, 94% of female students are hugely influenced by how subjects are taught, but one third of teachers said they did not know enough about STEM and STEM courses and careers.

Among girls’ schools who attended three or more STEM events, 30% chose two STEM subjects to Leaving Cert, compared to 20% who attended two or less.

82% of the girls surveyed indicated they want a career where they can help other people, yet they cannot clearly see how STEM could facilitate that.

Practically all teachers, 94%, recognise the opportunities for STEM careers and 74% want more support, through training and access to STEM role models and industry.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said: “I would like to acknowledge the work undertaken by Accenture and I Wish in publishing a series of reports which provide much-needed insight into the under-representation of girls and women in STEM education and STEM careers. I want Ireland to be a leader in the provision of STEM education.

“Last year, I published a STEM report and prioritised 21 actions for implementation, including actions to increase the take up of STEM subjects by girls. I will shortly publish a STEM Education Policy Statement which will set out the actions we need to take to become a world leader in the provision of STEM education.”

Officially launching the report, Minister of State at the Department for Justice & Equality, David Stanton said: “I commend the research reports by I Wish and Accenture, which contain significant findings on the promotion of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to young girls and women in Ireland. The insights coming through from the large sample of female students and their teachers and parents are very valuable for all the stakeholders involved, and will help to shape future developments at Government level in this area. At the Department of Justice and Equality, through our ‘National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020: Creating a better society for all’, we are committed to ensuring that girls and women have every opportunity in the STEM sector.”

Paula Neary, client director at Accenture Ireland, said: “A new trend that has emerged is the need to change the ways that we talk about STEM careers. The report indicates that descriptive job titles, such as ‘sports equipment inventor’, are more appealing to young girls than traditional jobs titles such as ‘engineer’.

“In order for Ireland to continue to compete on a global stage, we need to equip young people with STEM skills, and fast. The scale of digital disruption taking place across every industry means that the workforce of the future need to have a strong set of core skills which are developed through a STEM education. We need to inform and encourage girls, in particular, so that they see the possibilities of a career in STEM. Industry, government and education bodies need to come together to equip women with new skills as contributors to the economy and to society, and ensure no girl is left behind as the world transforms.”

I Wish co-founder Ruth Buckley said: “Our research points to the significant role that teachers can play as a gateway to STEM careers. Where girls attend three STEM activities, they are more likely to choose STEM subjects. Eight-two percent of girls say they want a career where they can help other people, yet do not see how STEM facilitates that. Giving teachers and girls knowledge, information and access is key. We cannot leave girls inclusion to chance, we need to have a consistent and systematic focus on STEM through our education system as well as supporting teachers so they can communicate and inform young girls on the value and opportunities of STEM subjects, courses and careers. An incredible 40% of the girls who attended I Wish have made changes to their subject or career choices. Collectively, we can make a difference, but the time has come to do so in a sustained, systematic and focused way by mandating the inclusion of STEM activities into the curriculum. Let’s not leave the future of girls in STEM to chance”

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