The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that computer occupations will increase by 11.5% between 2019 and 2029. To meet this growing demand and prepare future generations for the workforce, we must introduce STEM disciplines such as computer science at an earlier age to all students, beginning in elementary school.
As with most academic concepts, exposing students to computer science at a young age may allow them to understand basic concepts and absorb the information better. Developing an earlier interest may also make it easier for girls and other minorities to develop a passion for STEM disciplines that will drive their choice of study in college and, ultimately, their careers.
While women have made some strides in representation within the STEM disciplines, there is still more progress to be made. According to the United States Census Bureau, women made up 27% of STEM workers in 2019, increasing from 8% in 1970. I hope to see that number continue to rise, but we need a plan to ensure that happens.
Women and Girls in Science
Between the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science this month and the recently launched “She Can STEM” PSA, (supported by ABET Member Society SWE), I’ve been thinking more about how to increase the number of women in the STEM disciplines. Diversity is essential to solving the many complex global challenges we face. It’s been proven that different viewpoints and experiences help develop more robust and effective solutions for everyone. It’s essential that we attract more women and other minorities into engineering and science.
There’s a common misconception among many in our society that boys are better than girls in STEM classes, which is one of several reasons young girls are often deterred from pursuing these disciplines in high school or college. There is plenty of evidence, however, that girls are just as capable as boys when it comes to math, science and sequential thinking.
Introducing girls to STEM classes before they get a chance to realize this misconception can help them develop an interest before it’s too late. According to Dr. Jenna Carpenter’s TEDx Talk, “Engineering — Where are the girls and why aren’t they here?,” girls begin to lose interest in math and science around middle school age, often as a result of hearing those stereotypes.
It’s not just these stereotypes that scare girls away from STEM subjects, but also the negative perception of women as engineers and scientists in our society. Carpenter pointed out that teenage girls are often self-conscious of how they appear to their friends, and unfavorable peer pressure can turn them away from engineering and science at an early age. If girls enjoying science and engineering becomes the norm, I think we will see more women continuing into STEM disciplines in college and beyond.
“Things which by themselves may not seem like such a big deal, but collectively, together, over a career, over a lifetime, they can add up to a lot,” Carpenter said. “And they can make it really difficult for a girl or a woman in engineering or science to stick with it, to contribute, to live up to her potential, to dream.”
There are many obstacles women must overcome to succeed in or even enter STEM fields. Changing the way in which we speak to girls and women about engineering and science could make a big difference in their future careers. We have to nurture their talents instead of hindering them with false stereotypes at a young age.
Young girls need to see women in STEM roles to realize these career paths are options for themselves. Role models have a powerful effect on young people and having women in successful engineering or science careers is a sure way to demonstrate that STEM careers are a real possibility for everyone. So, let’s do everything we can do to remove obstacles and open pathways for our next generation of women engineers and scientists.
We’ve come a long way since 1970, but I’m confident we can do more.