Young girls are interested in science and technology, but their positive views change within just a few years.
According to a study by Microsoft, most girls become interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the age of 11-and-a-half but this starts to wane by the age of 15.
Girls cited a lack of female role models in STEM as a key reason they didn’t follow a career in the sector, with young women not getting enough practical, hands-on experience with STEM subjects.
Just 42% of women aged between 11 and 30 in 12 European countries said they would consider a STEM-related career in the future; and 60% admitted they would feel more confident pursuing a career in STEM fields if they knew men and women were equally employed in those professions.
More than half (57%) of the young European women that Microsoft surveyed said that having a teacher who encouraged them to pursue STEM would make it more likely for them to follow that career path.
Having role models and support at home and in the classroom were key drivers for girls wanting to keep studying STEM subjects. Others included gaining practical experiences and hands-on exercises in STEM subjects; learning about real-life applications that show what they can do with STEM subjects and feeling more confident that men and women were treated equally in STEM careers.
Over the past decade, employment in Europe’s technology sector has grown three times faster than overall employment. Governments, businesses and individuals are learning to adapt to and embrace what has been called the “fourth industrial revolution”. Advances in technology have made autonomous vehicles, robotics, 3D-printing, genetic diagnostics and the Internet of Things more than a reality; they have become commonplace.
This new world needs skilled scientists, engineers and technicians of both genders who have experience in STEM subjects over a long period. Europe could face a shortage of up to 900 000 skilled ICT workers by 2020, according to the European Commission (EC). If we had as many women as men in the digital jobs market, the EU’s annual GDP could be boosted by €9-billion, the EC states.
“There are two reasons why it is important to inspire girls for STEM,” says Sabine Bendiek, MD of Microsoft Germany. “On the one hand, because they gain a whole lot of career possibilities – after all, IT professions and digital literacy are becoming more and more important in our digitised world.
“On the other hand, we need girls in STEM in order to stay economically competitive.
Professor Martin Bauer, from the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics (LSE), who worked with Microsoft on the study, comments: “The problem is no longer lack of talent, but talent in the right career path. And one of the key issues is the fact that male and female students continue to make different career choices. Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls’ career choices away from STEM fields.”