It’s no secret that careers are often built in the classroom. Of course there are other factors, but educators have a unique platform that can shape a student’s career aspirations by not only introducing subjects of interest, but developing those interests.
One issue facing our nation is the lack of awareness about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. Another is a lack of educational resources dedicated to STEM education. While many districts and schools have adopted STEM programs and dedicated the necessary resources, this is not the norm. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that technology professionals will experience the highest growth in job numbers between now and 2030.
Statistics show that women are underrepresented in STEM careers. Just browsing through the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s latest available survey, excluding medical and social sciences, women average around a quarter of those employed in STEM fields. That number is even lower for women of color. According to this chart from the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2014-2015, just under 200,000 women earned STEM degrees/certifications compared to 430,000 men.
There are many contributing factors to these numbers and no single fix to ensure more racial and gender diversity in these STEM professions. Microsoft commissioned a study in 2017 to pinpoint when and why female students are losing interest in STEM subjects. Their findings suggest that female students have a harder time picturing themselves in STEM professions and they don’t initially see the potential for creativity of real-world impact in these fields. The study also found that exposure to real-world applications of STEM subjects, career awareness, and the opportunity to participate in STEM clubs can have a profound impact on changing this mindset.
Another huge difference-maker is encouragement from teachers, parents, and mentors. A good first step is to introduce young women to positive female role models in these fields. One fantastic resource we’ve stumbled upon is careergirls.org. We’re in no way affiliated with them, but we think what they’re doing is really cool and a valuable, free resource for introducing anyone, especially young women, to professionals in STEM fields. Data suggests that most female students write off these career options in middle school and interest falls even further in high school. Without a concerted effort to develop interest, especially in middle school female students, we can expect to see STEM professions dominated by a pool of male applicants.
Diversity creates a more valuable and effective workforce, so it’s imperative that changes are made wherever we can to ensure our STEM professionals are just that – diverse. Yes, children have a lot of influences that can also affect their interests; their home life, friends, movies, music, television, social networks, influencers are a thing now, and whatever else the next social network will bring. But we as educators have a charge to do whatever we can to steer our students towards success.
NICERC is taking steps to ensure our design and curriculum examples include more diversity, and we would love feedback on how we as part of the STEM community can increase inclusivity and diversity. Please contact us with any feedback or reach out on our Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin to start a discussion. Together we can change the world.