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To interest young women in STEM-related careers, we must instill a passion for STEM education at an early age and continue to support them.

From inspiration to impact: Attracting women to STEM

To interest young women in STEM-related careers, we must instill a passion for STEM education at an early age and to continue to provide support for girls

Key points:

  • The bottom line: Representation matters
  • Encouraging a passion for STEM from a young age will keep more women in STEM

The number of women working in STEM jobs has increased 31 percent over the past decade, but women continue to be outnumbered by men in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs—including roles in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences. Although women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they only represented 34 percent of the science and engineering roles in 2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Not only is it important to see more women fill STEM jobs from an equity standpoint, but there is also a lack of professionals to fill the demand for future STEM roles, projected to grow by 11 percent over the next decade.

To interest young women in STEM-related careers, we must instill a passion for STEM education at an early age and continue to provide support for girls throughout their academic careers.

Empowering girls to excel

According to a recent Microsoft study, 31 percent of girls in middle school believe that jobs requiring coding and programming are “not for them.” In high school, that number rises to 40 percent. By the time they’re in college, 58 percent of young women disqualify themselves from STEM jobs.

To build confidence in girls and dismantle stereotypes surrounding math- and science-related fields, it’s important to look for long-term programs that successfully reach underrepresented groups throughout grades 3–12. It’s particularly critical that these programs provide young women with additional support as they make decisions for college and life beyond school.

By giving teachers classroom resources, hands-on training, and best practices to build and maintain subject matter expertise in STEM, girls can become confident and creative problem solvers. At the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), students whose teachers utilize our Laying the Foundation materials and instruction score significantly better on ACT Aspire™ math and reading assessments than their peers, setting them up for future success in all subjects.

By giving girls enrolled in AP courses access to study guides, videos, and virtual coaching they’re able to build confidence and achieve success. In a recent white paper examining the impacts of our College Readiness Program, students were dramatically more likely to earn STEM degrees than their counterparts.

Unlocking STEM potential with professional development

To empower girls and support their interest in STEM, we also must empower educators. As a former educator who spent 18 years in the classroom, I have seen firsthand the impact STEM resources can have on teacher practice.

Decades of research confirms evidence-based professional development can give teachers the content and pedagogical knowledge they need to improve STEM achievement in all students – including girls. Here are five important aspects I looked for in a high-quality STEM professional development program:

  1. Deep Content Knowledge: Teachers should have a thorough understanding of the concepts and standards being taught so they can help identify and accelerate students through learning gaps, ensuring students stay on grade level.
  2. Pedagogical Instruction:  High-quality STEM professional development should prepare teachers with strategies and techniques for delivering challenging content in ways that build on students’ strengths and interests.
  3. Opportunities to Apply the Learning in Context: Teachers need to have a chance to apply what they’re learning in the context of the classes they’re teaching. Ideally, teachers should have opportunities to collaborate with colleagues to create engaging lessons and a built-in support network.
  4. Ongoing Feedback and Support: To transform their practice, teachers need ongoing coaching that allows for real-time planning, practice, and reflection with supportive mentors.
  5. Clear Evidence of Success: The gold standard for any STEM professional development is evidence-based success. I look for programs that have been evaluated by independent researchers and found to have made a positive impact on teacher effectiveness and student success.

Keeping girls and young women interested and engaged in STEM doesn’t end with delivering curriculum and professional development. Leadership teams must also support their teachers–particularly those new to the field–to ensure every individual experiences success.

There are many STEM professional development programs and curricula to choose from. If you’re thinking about investing in a STEM program, knowing what to look for can lead you to programs that are making the greatest impact on all students–and that deliberately invite girls and young women into STEM.

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