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Let’s STEM the flow of female students away from maths and science

Are schools, teachers and parents doing enough to promote subjects that can lead women into top jobs?

Female scientist
Helen edits the website for Leigh Day and also runs the library and research service for the firm.  
Gone are the days of the boys doing woodwork, while the girls make cakes.  If you look at the glossy brochures from any self-respecting school they are sure to include a picture of a serious looking female student hunched over a Bunsen burner, or shaking a test tube.  Surely in 2017 the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are open to all?

Well, apparently not.  According to the United Nations, women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science, despite science and gender equality being one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability for female students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Docterate in a science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%.

UCL’s Inspiring Women in Science programme note that only 8% of students in computing were female, and 22% in physics in 2012.

Much as in life, not all degrees are equal.  In December 2014 the Sutton Trust released a report showing that graduates from medicine and dentistry courses earn starting salaries approximately £12,200 higher than those studying design and creative arts. Engineering and technology graduates earn on average £8,800 higher than design and creative arts graduates.

It really is worth women doing these courses, so what is stopping young female students from studying the STEM subjects? It isn’t rocket science. From an early age girls seem to lack confidence in their ability to solve maths and science problems despite being perfectly capable. Girls are pushed towards the subjects that have traditionally been seen as ones they are good at, such as English, music and drama while in sixth forms boys are encouraged to tackle the tough STEM subjects.  

Classrooms can be difficult places for girls who are studying science or maths, and many schools still tolerate sexist attitudes from teachers and pupils towards their female students. It must be dispiriting to be one of only a handful of women on degree courses such as engineering or geology, and makes learning even more of a challenge without female colleagues to work with.

So while the UN declares 11th February as the International day of Women and Girls in Science there is a lot more that can be done to encourage girls into STEM subjects.

If you have a daughter, niece or young friend who is good at maths, physics or chemistry, for goodness sake encourage her.  Let her learn coding, send her on science courses, tell her about great female mathematicians, and help her find work experience in a lab or engineering company.  Women are just as capable as men at the STEM subjects and it’s time they joined in!

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