Let's STEM the stereotypes now

New research out today from I Wish shows there are still barriers to girls and young women taking up subjects and careers in STEM
Let's STEM the stereotypes now
I WISH founders Caroline O'Driscoll, Ruth Buckley and Gillian Keating. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

ALARMINGLY, one third of parents and teachers (29%) still perceive STEM disciplines as more closely fitting boys’ brains, personalities and hobbies.

The research launched today by Accenture Ireland and I Wish, which was founded by three Cork women, Gillian Keating (RDJ), Ruth Buckley (Cork City Council) and Caroline O’Driscoll (KPMG) reveals that parents and teachers are the key influencers on girls’ subjects and career choices.

It recommends that more education and support should be aimed at parents and teachers, to attract more girls and young women into studying and ultimately pursuing careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

The research was carried out among 3,000 Irish students, parents and teachers and builds upon research carried out in 2013 and 2015.

The research also found:

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% stated that they have no experience of modern STEM careers to pass on to 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.

GIRLS Vs BOYS

One third of parents and teachers (29%) 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 ten teachers believing that the gender gap begins to appear before primary school.

THE POWER OF TEACHERS

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

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

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

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

The majority of teachers 94% recognise the opportunities for STEM careers and 74% want more support though training and access to STEM role models and industry.

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.

“82% 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 that 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”

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 equip women with new skills as contributors to the economy and to society, and ensure no girl is left behind as the world transforms.”

What needs to change to get more girls into STEM?

THE Accenture and I WISH report also makes several recommendations:

Early intervention to alleviate negative perceptions of STEM at a young age.

Help parents educate themselves further about STEM subjects so that they have a positive influence on their children.

Introduce training and supports for teachers that provide comprehensive information on STEM careers and course options.

Mandate the inclusion of informal/extra curricular STEM events into the curriculum.

Alter the way we speak about careers to enable children to envisage what a career in STEM might look like.

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