We have a 4-year window to spark and hold girls’ interest in STEM; at the age of 15 interest starts to fall among Europe’s girls. In a study that complements Accenture’s “Cracking the Gender Code in Computing” study, Microsoft Europe’s new report “Why Europe’s Girls Aren’t Studying STEM” highlights the importance of role models as the number 1 driver. In our study we found that when younger girls see computing as something ‘for girls’ they are 25 percent more likely to continue to study it. But it’s hard to think a career is ‘for you’ when the films and TV you watch show scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists as men 88 percent of the time - as Dagmar Schumacher, Director for UN Women, Brussels cited.
At a recent Microsoft/UNESCO conference in Brussels to launch the new report, I joined Justine Sass (Chief of the Section of Education for Inclusion & Diversity at UNESCO) and Julian Lambertin, who led Microsoft’s research, on a panel to share our research findings and explore common ground and solutions. Microsoft’s report lists having practical experience as the second most important driver and highlights the importance of creativity in the classroom. Our recent work on STEM in the UK shows that when asked what they want to do in a future job girls say they want to be creative (52% versus 36% of boys) whereas boys want to work with technology (48% versus 26% of girls), so helping girls see the creative side of STEM is critical to engaging their interest. Teacher mentors were also critical and the topic of how to teach STEM dominated much of the day’s discussion. In our research we too saw plummeting interest in computing from the age of 15 when the story is no longer about sparking their interest but about holding it in the face of strong negative influences…. not finding lessons interesting and not being with their friends make young women 30% less likely to continue with computing even though 62% of girls later regret not studying STEM subjects for longer.
It was a privilege to be part of the debate and with such great minds and organisations focused on finding a solution equality in STEM is perhaps not such a distance dream.
If you’re interested in the discussion you can follow the debate at #GettingtoEqual, #MakeWhatsNext and #GirlsInSTEM.