Why are so few girls interested in STEM? I recently attended an event co-hosted by Lorien, TechGirls and Sharp Gaming that focused on future careers in tech. We helped 30 female and non-binary students get inspired and excited about their future in tech with personalised talks and workshops. But when I asked the group who was going to choose computer science as a GCSE choice, not a single one of the students said yes – and neither did my daughters when I asked them. This leads me to wonder how we can get young girls interested in tech, and what companies – including Lorien – can do to combat the gender gap within STEM.
The facts about gender and tech
In education, there is still a gender gap between those interested in tech and STEM and those who are not – and it seems to be widening. In many schools, around 10% of students taking technology-based subjects are girls, whereas a textiles class is typically 90% female. This suggests that old fashioned opinions about what subjects girls ‘should’ study may still be influencing students.
Beyond GCSE qualifications, the gap between girls and boys in STEM continues to widen, with only 35% of girls choosing to study STEM subjects at a higher level, compared to 80% of boys. What makes these statistics even more interesting is that girls actually outperform boys in STEM subjects regularly, with girls passing more science A Levels than boys.
So what is causing girls to not choose STEM subjects? There are lots of possible explanations, but for me it comes down to visibility. Firstly, it is often – and correctly – perceived as a male-dominated subject, which makes it less appealing for young girls who may not be comfortable or confident in such a male-heavy environment. Secondly, the percentage of women employed in tech has barely moved in the last 13 years – it was 15.7% in 2009 and was last reported to be at 17%. Savvy teenagers (and their parents) will be able to research this, reinforcing the view that STEM is not for women. The 17% of women working in tech also applies to female tech teachers, meaning that girls could also struggle with representation at a local level, as according to educators, having a female tech teacher has a huge impact on students. If young girls cannot see themselves reflected from when they first start learning those subjects, their interest will inevitably be lost quickly.
Simply put, young girls may be put off from pursuing STEM because, according to the world around them, STEM is not female-friendly. When we look at their reference points – lack of female role models, stark statistics, the media, underrepresented teachers, and male-dominated classrooms – it becomes clear why so many would feel that STEM does not have a place for them and their ideas. But how do we fix it?
Tackling the gender gap
One clear solution that will help combat the gender gap from a young age is to show more awareness and encouragement from the get-go to young girls. We can start by having more visible role models in STEM, which includes teachers, and also by bringing in other women employed within STEM and technology to showcase their careers and job prospects to young girls. One teacher stated that a focus on employers and having speakers from well-known companies such as Google provided a boost to young girls’ tech interests as they can see themselves in those roles. We often partner with clients through MAMA.codes to provide speaking opportunities at local schools.
Technology has also been a huge focal point during the pandemic with the creation of COVID testing and track-and-trace systems, which may lead to a spike in tech interest. Students have been able to see tech play out in the real world and, with the need greater than ever, it is hoped that this may play a part in drawing more young girls in.
To build on this, we need to ensure that when we are talking about technology, we are considering real-world relevancy and citing examples that will motivate young girls as well as boys. The internet is a powerful tool, and we need to be mindful that every place we have to speak on tech – from Q&As to social media – is an opportunity to elevate STEM as something inclusive, creative, and exciting.
Organisations are also creating strategies to draw in more young girls and tackle the gender gap. The most notable example is the Girlguiding’s introduction of coding courses and activities. They have partnered with Google to offer activities in app design, coding, bugs, algorithms and smartphone design, and the effort has been met with positive feedback from both young girls and employees. More organisations are now taking proactive measures to promote STEM to young girls to level the playing field and reduce skill shortages, and this is something that we are proud to be becoming more involved in too.
Lorien and women in tech
At Lorien, we firmly believe in closing tech’s gender gap, which is why we were one of the early signatories of the Tech Talent Charter, with Lorien’s Director of Solutions and Insights Darren Topping acting as an ambassador. We are also a partner for a number of organisations that are working to combat gender inequality in tech. This includes TechGirls who we partner with to deliver workshops that inform, encourage and support young girls studying STEM subjects, with speakers – including myself – attending the sessions.
We also have a long-standing partnership with award-winning coding school MAMA.codes, who are passionate about drawing in girls from a young age and sparking their interest in tech by teaching them to code. We know our clients are also passionate about improving gender diversity in tech, with multiple initiatives launched in partnership with Lorien.
In conclusion, being able to spark interest in tech in young girls may not be easy, but it is possible – as Girlguiding and MAMA.codes have shown us. Lorien will continue doing all we can to attract young girls to the industry and we hope other organisations continue to do the same. Currently, 52% of girls aged 11 – 21 believe STEM to be subjects for boys and we hope that, in ten years, we can look at those stats and see they are on the decrease.