March is Women in History month. Here at Thimble, we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to celebrate some of the girls in STEM who have made strides in pushing innovation forward. (Specifically girls in engineering – because Thimble and engineering are BFF’s – forever.)
While we love celebrating the work that women and girls have contributed to the world around us, we also feel it’s important to raise awareness about a statistically significant disparity. This gap between girls and boys in STEM careers creates subconscious opinions about who belongs in STEM careers. (Spoiler alert: Everyone belongs in STEM careers.)
We need to acknowledge barriers to engaging girls in STEM. And we’d like to offer some solutions to encourage more girls in STEM to chase their dreams. We’re proud to brag up some Engineering superstars who just so happen to be amazing role models for girls everywhere. And finally – join us as we applaud organizations that are providing resources and rallying for science and math confidence in girls of all ages.
Girls in STEM Today – Is There a STEM Gender Gap?
Based on a study of women in STEM occupations released in 2020, it’s evident that the collective effort to increase girl’s confidence in these areas seems like it’s working. There are more women in STEM-related fields than ever before, so we must be good now right?
*insert losing-a-game-show buzzer sound here* WRONG. That gap still exists. Based on data, women only occupy 1 in 4 STEM jobs. Say what??
We know that this gender gap exists in participation. It’s even evident in our own live classes, which have a 60/40 split – boys to girls. Newsflash – this gap also exists in pay. UC San Diego Extension estimates that women earn $20,000 less per year than men in STEM careers. That pay disparity actually increased by 3% from 2010-2015 and has kind of plateaued since.
In the last decade, the percentage of STEM degrees earned by women has increased by about 10% (yay!). While this may seem like great news – it’s overshadowed by data showing only 36% of the STEM degrees earned are landing on the desk of a woman.
This gap in participation (and ultimately pay) begins with a confidence gap. Studies of young girls in STEM show us that confidence issues begin earlier than you might think. Between 5th and 9th grade, there is a 15% decline in the number of girls who believe they are good at science or math. What’s the most heartbreaking part of this statistic?
At the same time that girl’s confidence is plummeting, there’s a 16% increase in the number of girls who are interested in pursuing a career in math or science. That interest continues to grow through high school, but the confidence meter never recovers.
Barriers for Engaging Girls in STEM
The numbers are shouting at us. They’re shouting that girls want to chase their STEM dreams. But they’re also shouting that girls are convinced they’re not good enough. Something. Has. To. Change.
An informal study asked children to “draw a scientist”. Girls were twice as likely to draw a male scientist, and boys almost always drew a man. The idea that a scientist is a man is obviously prevalent in children.
(We encourage you to try this little experiment with your own students or children – specifically your girls. If their scientist is a man, ask them why their drawing was a man instead of a woman. Use it as an opportunity to open up a conversation with your daughters or students about their capabilities in math and science. Mirror their enthusiasm!)
What are the barriers that girls are facing? What could be tanking their confidence? It turns out the answer to that question is a multi-faceted one.
Girls Have a Weak Math Identity
Merle Froschl of FHI360 outlines two primary “pillars of math identity”
The belief that you can do math
The belief that you belong
Girls who don’t believe that they ‘belong’ inevitably begin to believe that they cannot do the math. Their attitude about their own ability snowballs through time into avoiding higher-level math skills. Froschl believes we need to change the messages that girls are hearing about their own abilities. We need to change the message about who belongs in mathematics occupations. Lack of confidence in mathematics specifically is one of the barriers to engaging girls in STEM degrees and occupations.
Race and Class Further Complicate Girl’s STEM Position
If we took ALL of the STEM doctorate degrees earned by women, only a fraction of those degrees (6.7%) are earned by women of color. It’s not completely clear why women of color enter STEM fields at a lower rate than their white counterparts. It’s been theorized that race and cultural differences, as well as gender roles, make co-workers and potential employers question the technical capabilities and expertise of women of color.
This kind of bias creates a culture of exclusion that leaves a gap in female role models of color in STEM occupations. That gap could spell disaster for young girls in STEM who don’t see successful career women who look like them.
While the root of the racial bias is theoretical, it’s a bit clearer to see why socioeconomic class differences affect women in STEM. Low-income students traditionally have lower participation in STEM opportunities outside of the classroom door. STEM enrichment by choice, STEM summer camps, and programming outside of school are often out of reach.
STEM Content vs. STEM Context
A study about girls and testing performance published in 2018 discovered some interesting information. It turns out that girls underperform boys on multiple-choice style questions. Girls are more apt to show their aptitude through open-ended questions. Think back to every standardized achievement or placement test you’ve ever taken – multiple choice? Of course, it was. This trend may partly explain the reason why men are entering college’s and universities’ STEM programs at a higher rate than women.
It’s not that girls don’t understand the content – it’s that they could be at a disadvantage due to the context being used to demonstrate that understanding.
Solutions to Get More Girls in STEM
There are countless organizations dedicating people, hours, and dollars to figuring out how to get more girls in STEM occupations. Yes – It’s THAT important. STEM occupations control a large chunk of the pie as far as income goes. STEM occupations offer a median annual wage of more than two times that of non-STEM occupations. Girls in STEM deserve to break down the barriers to gain access to those income levels, and there are solutions out there to help make this possible.
Expose Girls to STEM at a Young Age
The International Society for Technology in Education concurs that “engaging girls in STEM at an early age is essential to closing the gender divide”. Beginning in preschool with games that promote computational thinking is a great way to start. Allowing girls to play pretend with children’s kitchen chemistry experiments lets them envision themselves as a scientist at an early age. Invest in story-books like The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. Let girls see themselves as engineers, scientists, and mathematicians before they even hit fourth grade.
Support STEM Learning Opportunities Outside of the Classroom and In The Community
STEM Education takes on many forms. Informal education can look like:
Exploring nature and asking questions on a walk with family
Building and improving play-forts with string, clips, and blankets
Talking at the dinner table about how to logically solve a problem they ran into during the day
Paying attention to the moon and discussing what it looks like at night
Planting a garden, or even a single seed and observing it over time
Informal life activities like these computational thinking activities for kids
More formal STEM education opportunities outside of the classroom can make a huge difference in a girl’s confidence and opinion of herself. These formal education opportunities can look like:
STEM Summer Camp
Afterschool Robotics Program
Science clubs through local libraries
Online curriculum with live classes and STEM kits like Thimble
Speak to Their Souls – The Power of Words for Girls in STEM
The power of words is unimaginable. Speaking to a young girl about her abilities, her potential, and your belief in what she can do and become will last long after the words are uttered. Girls don’t just need to see other women in positions of STEM success – they need to hear you say that you believe they can get there too.
Girls don’t need to hear you saying you were bad at math. Girls don’t need to hear you saying math is hard. Girls do need to hear how well they solved a problem. Girls do need to hear that you believe in them. You may not be intentionally smack-talking STEM subjects, but we need to flip the script – and start breathing confidence into young women.
The power of words is measurable – and it makes a significant difference in long-term outcomes.
Celebrating 8 Influential Women in Engineering
Girls in engineering are more than successful – they’re powerful. They are making behind-the-scenes changes to our world every day, and have been for centuries. Many women have made historical contributions – and were only able to do so because they held fast to their STEM aspirations, and ignored the biases and stereotypes that told them there was no way they could succeed in a male-dominated field. (Fast fact: Only 13% of engineers are women, according to the Society of Women Engineers)
Meet Lisa Seacat Deluca – Software Engineer and Inventor
Lisa Seacat Deluca is considered the most prolific female inventor in tech giant IBM’s history. She began tinkering and inventing as early as second grade and played a lot of video games growing up. Lisa graduated from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s made over 600 inventions in her time at IBM. Lisa wants to encourage girls in STEM to start young, and to continue chasing their dreams – and make their mark on the path of innovation.
See Lisa give a great TED talk here. She predicts the technology we use every day with our Alexa-run devices (Dot, Nest, etc…). This talk was given back in 2014, just a few months before Amazon announced Alexa alongside the Echo.
Meet Tiera Fletcher – Structural Engineer Sending Rockets to Mars
Tiera Fletcher began building her love of math with the help of her parents who constantly gave her math-oriented tasks as a child. She graduated from MIT and married a fellow aerospace engineer. She and her husband Myron worked together on NASA’s Space Launch System – the most powerful rocket ever created in human history. They had a hand in sending a rocket to mars recently. Tiera welcomes questions from kids all across the country and encourages young girls to get involved in STEM early in life.
It’s not lost on Tiera that at points in her education and career, she had to battle being the only woman, and sometimes the only person of color, in her professional environment.
Meet Edith Clarke – The FIRST Female Electrical Engineer?
Edith Clarke broke down the first barriers for girls in STEM. She was the first woman to graduate from MIT with a master’s in electrical engineering. She would eventually be recognized as one of, if not the first professional female electrical engineer in America. Clarke invented a special kind of calculator, which helped electrical engineers solve equations commonly used in understanding power lines. This calculator was suitably known as the “Clarke Calendar”.
Edith Clarke was one of the brains behind the development and installation of the turbines on the Hoover Dam. In 1954, Edith was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Women Engineers. She passed away in 1959 and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Meet Mary W. Jackson – A ‘Hidden Figure’ in Engineering History
Mary W. Jackson was one of the women at NASA that the hit movie “Hidden Figures” was based upon. This movie showed young girls in STEM that women can make history – even women of color. Mary Jackson was a 1942 graduate of the Hampton Institute. She majored in mathematics and physical science. She spent time as a teacher, a bookkeeper, and a receptionist before she ended up as NASA’s first black, female aeronautical engineer in 1958.
Mary Jackson contributed more to girls in STEM than her own record of success. She worked hard to promote more girls in STEM through her position as Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. NASA has since named their Washington, DC headquarters after female engineering hero, Mary Jackson
Meet Debbie Sterling – An Engineer Empowering Girls with Toys
Debbie Sterling is an engineer who devoted her career to changing the way girls think about what an engineer looks like. Her line of female-focused STEM toys, Goldieblox, is taking the industry by storm. Recognized as “disrupting the pink aisle” at the toy store, Debbie designs and builds STEM toys for girls to encourage their engineering thought processes.
Goldieblox recently teamed up with Netflix to make themed “We Can Be Heroes” videos focusing on girls in STEM. The videos were intended to celebrate the release of Netflix’s family film, “We Can Be Heroes.”
Meet Sylvia Acevedo – Girl Scout Turned NASA Engineer
Sylvia Acevedo began girl scouting when she was just 7 years old. She eventually found herself at the helm of the organization, becoming the CEO of the Girl Scouts of America in 2017. She brought with her a mission of empowerment for girls in STEM. This desire to encourage more girls in STEM came from experiences of discrimination and loneliness in a field dominated by male colleagues. Acevedo worked as an engineer at some of the world’s leading companies, including Apple, IBM, Dell, and even as a rocket scientist with NASA.
Acevedo is a graduate of New Mexico State University where she majored in industrial engineering. She went on to get her master’s from Stanford University in systems engineering. She serves as a role model to girls – specifically Latino/Hispanic girls – who are trying to see themselves as future STEM superstars.
Meet Donna Auguste – Co-creator of Apple’s Newton Personal Digital Assistant
Donna Auguste is a successful African American female engineer. She found her love of STEM early. She spent time during her childhood taking apart her family’s appliances just to see how they worked. Graduating with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley, Auguste went on to become the first black woman in the Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University.
After graduating, Donna made her mark with multiple tech companies and launched several of her own. She was the senior director for US West Advanced Technologies, after which she founded Freshwater, a company that helped businesses monitor their website activity. After only four years in operation, she sold Freshwater for $147 million.
She founded the Leave a Little Room Foundation which helped develop housing, solar energy, and medical care in poor communities around the world. She currently runs Auguste Research Group LLC. They do research and development of sensor-based, data science products, services, and education.
She’s opening her arms to underrepresented groups (not just girls in STEM) with TheHab.io. TheHab is a centralized discussion and resource space for STEM graduate students from underrepresented groups including black, Latino, LGBTQ, deaf, and hard of hearing, with more groups opening up soon.
One of the most everyday contributions she’s made is the help in developing the Newton Personal Digital Assistant during her seven-year tenure with Apple.
Meet Hedy Lamarr – More Than Just a Pretty Face
After fleeing a wicked relationship, Hedy Lamarr emigrated to the United States. She caught the eye of Louis B. Meyer on the ship. Mayer was the head of MGM Studio, and it wasn’t long before Lamarr was settled in Beverly Hills and starring in Oscar-nominated films. She was a Jewish child who grew up to be one of the first “girls in STEM” whose contributions were overshadowed by her own incredible beauty.
Lamarr’s true passion was inventing. Though Lamarr had no formal engineering schooling, her brain found inventing ‘easy’. She ran experiments in her trailer during downtime between takes. Ideas came naturally to her. Though she hasn’t received proper credit for it, the US military acknowledges that Lamarr’s intellectual ideas paved the way for the Bluetooth technology we readily used today.
In 1941 she filed a patent with the US Patent Office for a “Secret Communication System” that allowed users to hop from frequency to frequency during radio communications to avoid being detected.
Her life is chronicled in a film titled “Bombshell” that was released by Zeitgeist Films in 2017.
Financial Support – Scholarships for Girls in STEM
One of the least-talked about barriers to entry in STEM fields for women is also shared by men. The financial burden of post-secondary education in STEM fields can keep brilliant minds out. STEM scholarships are a solution that we didn’t mention earlier, and those types of scholarships are more plentiful than you may think. There are plenty of scholarships for girls in STEM that are only offered to women. Check out these ten scholarships designed specifically for girls in engineering and STEM fields:
This scholarship awards $48,000 annually to 13 recipients and is dedicated to empowering women interested in STEM careers.
This scholarship awards $1,000 to recipients and is offered to girls in STEM worldwide.
This scholarship awards $3,000 annually to women seeking to further their STEM education at a higher level after high school graduation.
This scholarship is specifically for getting more girls in engineering fields. This scholarship program is made up of multiple smaller awards and distributes over $1 million annually to girls in STEM.
This STEM scholarship for girls is a $2,000 annual award amount in memory of Turkish native Aysen Tunca who overcame incredible obstacles to educate herself.
This STEM scholarship is sponsored by Engineer Girls website and awards three small scholarships for girls interested in using the funds to further their STEM education. Even elementary and middle school students are eligible for this scholarship.
This STEM scholarship for girls is distributed by Najal Judd to increase gender diversity in the STEM workplace. It awards an annual scholarship of $500.
This scholarship focuses on girls in STEM and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields and awards $2,000 annually.
This scholarship for girls in STEM is sponsored by the Society of Physics Student’s organization and awards $2,000 annually to deserving female physics learners.
This STEM scholarship for girls is named after the first female president of the ASHRAE and is offered to girls seeking higher education in HVAC-related fields. This $5,000 award is meant to empower women to seek education in a male-dominated field.
Positive Forces in the Fight for Gender Diversity in STEM
Thimble is constantly thinking of new ways to encourage girls to try out our classes. We also celebrate and applaud the following organizations. These groups are moving to empower girls in STEM through awareness, scholarships, products, activities, and education:
Keep encouraging and supporting the women and girls in your life to chase their dreams, whatever they may be. Tell them you believe in them, and that we believe in them too. Check out our curriculum, and get your middle and high school girls started in STEM and engineering now!