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Wanted: More girls in STEM

This simple phrase we hear so often, is a representation of the dramatic transformation our society has undergone in recent years. The sarcastic undertone it carries pokes fun at those who have not yet adopted today’s social norms, but at the same time, criticises the fundamental changes needed that are yet to occur.

It’s 2018, but we are still having to speak out for gender equality and fair representation in too many fields, namely in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 8-months back when the media buzzed with the announcement of Australian of the Year, seeing a female scientist as the winner was such a refreshment to the scene. But until when would the women plus science combination no longer seem so new anymore? It is no doubt similar questions have been asked before, answers were demanded by many and solutions have been proposed — although the g a p still remain unclosed.

"Women make up only 16% of Australia's STEM fields"

What that means is that this blog post will not be the ultimate ‘how-to’ guide. It is an invitation for you to join the discussion so that we can keep working together towards achieving that goal; that goal of one day, seeing too many girls as scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians… and endless more under the STEM field.

The most evident factor that makes STEM unappealing for girls, is the underlying gender roles embedded in our unconscious thinking. However, this is not the case of encouraging girls to play with toy cars instead of Barbie dolls or adding more blue clothes to their wardrobe. It is about introducing them to the aspects of STEM in as many opportunities as possible. It could be through small at-home experiments, building things virtually on the iPad, finding specialised external programs for them to participate in or simply just helping them to discover STEM that is embedded in our daily lives. Amongst the endless options, the important thing is that girls need to be familiar with these fields and help spark their interest.

"Its estimated that 75% of jobs in the future will require STEM skills"

You may ask why starting early is important. It is because this way, their passion is not taken away by inevitable social influences once they enter school. Due to the negative connotations on the labels such as a ‘nerd’ or ‘weirdo’ linked with STEM and the pressure of fitting in, their interests will be challenged. As an effect, this period is also a phase where girls without this early exposure, struggle to start engaging deeply in STEM. Furthermore, role models play an integral part in stimulating children’s interests and according to psychologist Piaget’s identity theory, children associate more with same-sex figures. The most common role models children see are teachers, and in a male-dominated STEM classroom, it creates an even more difficult environment for girls to find motivation in pursuing studies in these disciplines. For this reason, we need to nurture girls with strong determination for STEM by giving them a head start. And as adults, we need to actively support them with positive reinforcement along the way. It is then that they will be able to start a change and eventually inspire other fellow girls around them to do the same.

By. S. Jeong

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