How to Unleash Girls’ Natural Potential in STEM
Green Works conducted an experiment.
It didn’t happen in a laboratory or involve white lab coats or a rainbow of chemicals in test tubes. Instead, it happened in a library, involving a group of girls using crayons to draw on sheets of paper. The task: to draw scientists. The result: Nearly all of the girls drew men.
We’ve all heard that women and girls are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but the experiment by Green Works, a Clorox brand, corroborates the conventional wisdom that women do not represent the face of these fields. In fact, according to Green Works, only one in every 1,000 girls becomes a scientist.
Motivated by this knowledge, woman-founded brand Green Works has collaborated with AAUW in a multi-faceted campaign to engage girls and inspire them to unleash their #naturalpotential to explore careers in science.
As part of the collaboration, AAUW co-hosted a Twitter party with AAUW Fellowships and Grants alumnae, former Student Advisory Council members, and bloggers to discuss ways to spark girls’ scientific curiosity and connect them with female role models. The bloggers also shared their memories of the sciences and performed experiments with the girls in their lives to show how fun science can be.
Here are some of the lessons participants took away from the Green Works and AAUW collaboration to engage more girls in the STEM pipeline.
1. Science Can Be Fun
Who says science is always serious? As the experiments AAUW alumnae provided to Green Works showed, science can also be fun and games. Girls who are given the time to explore and discover things for themselves are more likely to grow into women who confidently explore STEM fields. “More than anything I loved watching her face light up,” wrote blogger Nicole Pharr after doing one of the experiments with her daughter. Now she says, “I’m looking forward to creating an electromagnet, erupting volcanoes, learning multiplication tables, soldering components onto a circuit board, disassembling and reassembling a computer, and so much more!”
2. Role Models Matter
When talking about the importance of role models during the Twitter party, current Student Advisory Council member Shannon Cholakian remembered what someone once told her: “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.” It’s important to show girls that women do STEM jobs so that young girls see that these jobs exist and that girls belong in them. As AAUW alum Heidi Gough tweeted, “In sixth grade, my son’s class was asked to draw a scientist. He drew me! I was never so honored.” Seeing women in STEM roles not only shows girls that women can do these jobs but also shows boys, their future colleagues, that women are capable in these fields.
3. Inspiration Is Key
When blogger Vanessa Marie Diaz asked for examples of famous women scientists during the party, she learned about Jane Goodall; Annie Jump Cannon, the creator of the modern classification system for stars; and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who discovered that the sun (and other stars) were mostly made of hydrogen and helium. Kelly Weinersmith, an AAUW alumna, also mentioned Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, her two favorite scientists and the women she named her two daughters after. Each of these women overcame gender bias and discrimination to become pioneers in their fields. Parents can do their part to inspire the next generation of Marie Curies by actively addressing and debunking stereotypes so that girls see themselves as just as capable as boys.
4. Science Extends beyond the Laboratory
Workforce projections show that 80 percent of future jobs will require a STEM education. If girls today are not interested in STEM, women not only will remain underrepresented in these fields, but they also may have a more difficult time finding jobs in the future. Girls are often conditioned to be afraid of failure, but trial and error is part of the process of great discoveries. Marie Curie once said, “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas,” so let girls take things apart, get messy, and put things back together as they learn all the ways in which they can take on roles in STEM now and in the future.
What’s in a name? A study of identical résumés shows that women are less likely to be hired in STEM fields.
Check out this guide for background on what stereotypes are and how we can fight our own bias.
There are so many ways to make a difference.