Push Past Gender Bias and Help Girls Discover a Love of STEM
March is Women’s History Month, and on March 8th we’re celebrating International Women’s Day! As women throughout the world continue to battle gender inequality, this is an important day to recognize — especially if you’re a parent to young girls.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreaktheBias. Biases pop up in many areas of women’s lives, making the work for gender equality vitally important to our and our children’s futures.
One bias that continues to affect many women and girls today is the thought that women are simply not good at math or science, and that’s why they’re less likely to enter STEM fields.
Women in STEM Statistics
Society’s perception is that men are better at science and math. Wait…what? Hold my beaker while we look at some actual stats.
When you include healthcare careers, women actually make up 50% of the STEM workforce. In fact, in 2019, women made up 74% of healthcare practitioners and technicians. But one area where women are vastly underrepresented is computer and engineering careers, where they make up only 25% of the workforce.
So why aren’t more girls choosing to pursue computer science careers? It’s not because of their math or science scores. A 2018 Australian study analyzed the grades of 1.6 million elementary, high school, and university students and found that girls typically outperform boys at all ages and in every area of study — including math and sciences.
The gender gap in STEM comes primarily from gender bias. And girls begin to feel and internalize these biases from an early age. But as a parent, we can work on correcting this STEM gender bias, opening up more opportunities for girls in STEM.
5 Ways to Help Your Daughter Discover a Love of STEM
With a little extra exposure and encouragement, you can help your child decide for herself if STEM is her perfect career path. Even if she later chooses not to pursue a STEM career, she can still exude confidence in math and science skills throughout her life. Here are 5 ways to overcome an early gender bias in STEM.
Don’t skip the “boy” toys
Toys have no gender, but many people still fall into the trap of thinking about “boy” and “girl” toy options. And when you look at the toy selections, it’s easy to see why girls may think that science-y stuff is just for the boys.
Now, don’t start ditching the dolls and Barbies — these are still great toys that teach many important social and emotional skills. In fact, buy more of these toys for your boys too. But while you’re shopping for dolls, be sure to add some wooden building blocks, Legos, slime kits, and chemistry sets to your cart.
Even your glitter and glam-loving little one can enjoy science learning with the right kit. Check out these crafty lip balm STEM sets to get her mixing, melting, pouring, and experimenting in a style that’s all her own.
Bonus Tip — don’t try to direct her attention one way or the other. Every child is unique in their interests. But you can work on creating equal access to STEM toys in your playroom, helping her ditch the STEM bias while boosting her learning confidence.
Encourage fun math learning
Math is the gateway to a great STEM career, but it’s often feared by boys and girls alike. But with the right tools math can actually be a lot of fun!
You can help your child develop a strong start in math by playing more games. Video games of all kinds can encourage math learning. Think about it — most games have a points system that allows players to purchase new items or unlock new characters and levels. These numbers go into the thousands (or higher) and can be a great way to get familiar with place values and more than/less than understanding.
If you want to help them tackle grade-level math, try educational games like Prodigy or Starfall. Or explore the show Numberblocks on Netflix to increase basic math understanding. You can also ditch the screens and break out your favorite board games to practice counting, adding, fractions, and more.
Take the fear out of math (and replace it with fun!) to boost your child’s interest in STEM.
Talk to her about her interests
What does your daughter love? Animals, outer space, babies, exploring nature? All of these interests can link back to STEM topics. Spend time talking to her about her interests, and explore these areas together.
Summer camps and after-school activities are a great way for her to dive deeper into her favorite things. There are fun coding and robotics camps, or check out a space camp to keep her eyes to the skies. Some camps also offer virtual learning!
Even if her ideas seem out of reach, they’re worth pursuing. If she wants to one day visit space, don’t dismiss it or tell her how unlikely that is to happen. Instead, explore ways to bring her dreams to life. Give her the chance to make her own path — you never know where it may lead her.
Show her how STEM is being used to change the world
Today’s world is technology-fueled. And STEM fields are studying many of the biggest issues affecting us today — such as climate change, ocean clean-ups, and sustainable energy sources.
These are all big projects that will affect her generation and many yet to come. And she can play a part and have a massive impact on the world! STEM studies are one way to get there, and they need to be included in the many possibilities she has to choose from.
Introduce your child to women in STEM
Representation is important. You can talk about women in STEM all day long, but exposing her to these role models early in her life will have an even bigger impact.
Explore the history of women in science together. If your child loves space, learn more about the accomplishments of Katherine Johnson or Roberta Bondar. If animals are her jam, introduce her to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. And there are many accomplished women in chemistry, engineering, math, and more. A quick Google search will give you all the info you need to share inspiring stories with your child.
But don’t just talk about historical figures! There are women working in STEM right now that you can introduce her to. Reach out to your network and you may even find a new mentor for your budding scientist.
STEM is for everyone!
It may feel like an uphill battle, but the work you put in now can make a huge difference in your child’s beliefs. Early exposure to STEM can boost her confidence and set her up for years of success, in both school and her future career.
Always keep the focus on her interests, share loving encouragement, and give her plenty of opportunities to explore STEM topics in real life.
Looking for some quick and easy STEM activities? We have two FREE printables to keep your child interested in all things STEM.
Download our Women in STEM activity booklet for plenty of career inspiration.
Then keep your child busy practicing her STEM skills with our new STEM Activities pack!
With your encouragement, she can battle society’s gender biases and succeed in whatever field she chooses. And that is amazing!
Happy International Women’s Day!