By: Beth Meyer, Vice President of Partner Success at Discovery Education
The evidence is clear – the number of STEM jobs are growing, but not equally.
Insight from Pew Research Center finds that the STEM workforce outpaced all other U.S. job sectors, growing by over 79% since 1990. But while the number of STEM jobs have grown, not everyone is able to access a career in STEM. The COVID-19 global pandemic starkly illuminates not only the growing impact of STEM careers, but also concerning diversity disparities. As engineers churn out new masks and respirators and technology professionals expand contact tracing, we continue to see few of these types of jobs held by women. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up only 28% of science and engineering workforce.
The gap is also evident in healthcare. While women are still heavily represented in key healthcare roles – making up 90% of the nursing population – according to The New York Times, they are severely underrepresented in all other health-related STEM fields, including higher paying careers. Women occupy only about 30% C-suite jobs in the healthcare sector.
The longer-term impacts of these inequalities show up in times of crisis. United Nations Women reports that women and girls specifically have been adversely impacted by COVID-19. Inequalities experienced from the gender pay gap intensify during times of economic strife and girls experience increased burdens from home, impeding access to education.
With these challenges top-of-mind, solutions to increasing the number of women that move into STEM fields is paramount. Recent findings from the Girl Scouts Research Institute shows that girls who engage in STEM activities, like those offered from the Girl Scouts, are nearly twice as likely to want to have a job in STEM. Not only that, these kids are stronger leaders with excellent grades, intend to graduate college, and feel hopeful and fueled to pursue a STEM future.
The barrier? Representation. Girls know they have what it takes! To do that, girls need to see people like them in STEM. Intervention is key to maintaining this interest as girls move into middle and high school; and everyone – teachers, parents, and community members – can contribute to this effort. Exposure to women in STEM careers and spotlighting the ways in which STEM careers serve humanity contributes to maintaining and expanding girls’ enthusiasm through growing interest, confidence, competence, and value.
Girls Get STEM: Unleash Your Inner Scientist from Girl Scouts of the USA and Discovery Education helps set a new trend in STEM by cultivating girls’ early interest in STEM and associated careers. The no-cost, standards-aligned curriculum for all students in grades K-5 provides educators, families, and troop leaders what they need to spark girls’ interest in STEM and help them unleash their potential.
The resources encourage creativity, collaboration, innovation, and problem solving in the wide world of STEM by engaging girls through digital student and family activities. From space science and engineering to cyber security and internet identity, these resources unleash students’ inner scientist in the digital classroom and beyond. Students can also explore a Virtual Field Trip that specifically highlights girls that are interested in STEM and women excelling in STEM careers.
The results of engaging girls in STEM are real. Through Girls Get STEM and Girl Scouts programs, Girl Scouts are more likely than non–Girl Scout girls to have sustained interested in STEM fields and tech careers: 72% of Girl Scouts are interested in STEM fields versus 60% of non-scouts.
As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, jobs in the cyber security, science, technology, engineering, and math fields prove essential. Amplifying girl’s interest in STEM means girls seeing people like them in sectors and careers while building a lasting set of strong skills. Those STEM skills must be fueled by empowered girls in order to grow a stable and secure world for everyone.
That’s why Girls Get STEM: Unleash Your Inner Scientist provides so much impact. The program gives girls the training, mentoring, and hands-on experiences to help them understand the value of STEM to society and the options for their own related career paths. As astronaut and physicist Sally Ride said, “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”