Despite some progress that’s been made in the last few years, it’s no secret that the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) are still male dominated. While there are some legitimate concerns about discrimination and hostile working environments, these factors alone aren’t necessarily what’s driving the lack of gender equality in STEM.

For many girls, getting shut out of these growing fields begins much earlier—in the classroom. At a young age, many girls are interested in these fields, but tend to lose interest as they enter high school and college. So why are girls losing interest in STEM and what can be done to reverse this trend? Here are some ideas for how to get more women interested in these important careers.

The STEM Landscape and Women

Although many large companies have claimed to be making their workplaces friendlier toward women, the numbers are still disappointing. Just 29 percent of workers in science and engineering are women, even though half of all college graduates are female. Why this imbalance? It has a lot to do with our education system and how the United States still views gender roles.

One of the biggest obstacles in getting more girls interested in STEM fields long-term is our cultural expectations. Whenever engineers, scientists, and tech leaders are portrayed in the media, they tend to be white males. Because of this, girls just don’t have the role models they need to inspire them. Some teachers also internalize these messages (usually subconsciously) and don’t encourage girls to study STEM subjects enough.

Job Prospects by the Numbers

One of the reasons it’s so important to get more women involved in STEM fields is to improve innovation in these industries and to help close the gender pay gap. On top of that, these fields are experiencing massive growth. Employers are struggling to fill openings in science, engineering, and tech, with the number of open jobs sometimes outpacing graduates in technical majors by more than double.

We need more talented women in STEM careers to help move our economy forward and improve the output of these fields. In the near future, more and more jobs will be added to these sectors and American companies will begin to lose their competitive edge if they don’t have enough skilled workers.

Ways to Encourage Involvement

Cultural changes take time, and they often start by educating the next generation. If young girls in elementary school and junior high are encouraged to take an interest in STEM subjects, it will begin to normalize these careers for women and bring more role models in for girls to look up to. Once that ball gets rolling, we should start seeing more and more girls interested in STEM all the way through high school and college. That encouragement has to start with schools and with parents.

So how can teachers and parents inspire girls to dive into STEM? Here are some ideas.

Connect them with inspiring women in STEM

Even though there are fewer women than men in STEM fields, there are still female engineers, scientists, and programmers doing great work for companies all over the world. It can be inspiring and empowering to have these role models come and speak to a class and answer their questions. It can even be beneficial for girls to read about the women who have beaten the odds and become successful in male-dominated STEM fields. Grace Hopper, Sally Ride, and Ada Lovelace are all great options for inspiring women girls can look up to.

Use online resources

Sometimes, kids feel a lot of pressure and criticism in the classroom, especially over STEM subjects. Teachers and parents can direct girls to online resources or bring those resources into class for interactive projects. Taking the pressure and stereotypes out of teaching STEM subjects is key for encouraging girls to develop an interest in these areas. Making projects and topics relevant to girls’ lives can help them explore possibilities in the future they may not have considered.

Attend events

STEM camps, Hour of Code, and other STEM-focused events can be a great way to inspire girls. Parents and teachers alike can arrange these events that bring people together and showcase all the exciting areas STEM subjects cover.

The Potential Path Forward

By educating girls and encouraging them to get involved in STEM subjects, we can start to change the world (and the economy) in a big way. When women start businesses of their own, these companies perform twice as well as those founded by men and create more than 60 percent more value for investors.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to get more girls interested in STEM. But it’s time to stop talking and start doing. Women have a lot to offer STEM fields—they just need to know why they should pursue these careers.

With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health, education and business sectors. Daren is passionate about inspiring students and teachers alike to find innovative ways to approach learning, particularly younger women who she hopes to help motivate to close the gap in executive positions and STEM industries.

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