Increasing women’s participation in STEM and Skilled Trades requires a multi-faceted approach to change. This approach ranges from providing support and resources for women currently in the workforce to providing accurate information and experiences in these fields for girls and gender-diverse youth.
STEMforGIRLS programs are specifically designed to broaden participants’ perceptions of STEM and Skilled Trades, to give them hands-on experiences, and to enable them to envision and pursue careers in these areas.
The Business Case for STEMforGIRLS
As the bulk of the current workforce nears retirement age, their positions will need to be filled by new workers. However, as it stands, the pool of new entrants is not expected to be able to meet the needs of Canada’s growing economy.
Skill shortages are already being experienced in trades and in emerging technology areas, making it increasingly difficult for businesses to remain competitive in a global marketplace.
The key to addressing this skill shortage and to improving any business’ competitive advantage lies in increasing workplace diversity.
Significant research has confirmed that businesses with a diverse workforce are able to: improve their financial performance, effectively leverage talent, reflect the marketplace and build their reputation, and increase innovation and group performance.
It is obvious that attracting more women to train for work in all sectors of the economy has become a business imperative.
This is especially true in STEM fields and in the Skilled Trades.
In 2016, women held 34% of STEM bachelor’s degrees and represented just 23% of science and technology workers among Canadians aged 25 to 64. This shortage of women in STEM is widely recognized as detrimental to women, since science and technology occupations, particularly in engineering and computer science, are among the highest-paying and fastest-growing occupations.
The lack of women in these fields is also detrimental to the occupations themselves, since numerous analyses have found that greater diversity strengthens the kind of innovation and performance that is required for businesses and organizations to thrive in the current economy. (Wall, 2019)
Attracting women to STEM/Skilled Trades starts with ensuring that training and experience in those fields is accessible to girls who are exploring their career options.
STEMforGIRLS Can Help
Today’s young girls will make up 52% of the available workforce in the next decade. It just makes sense to prepare them to enter a wide range of fields.
However, there are a variety of barriers that can prevent many young women from considering careers in STEM and in the Skilled Trades. STEMforGIRLS takes a direct approach to removing those obstacles.
Barrier: Inaccurate Information and Lack of Role Models
When given the opportunity, girls first become interested in pursuing STEM subjects and careers, around the age of 11, but this interest can soon wane due to a lack of role models, a perception of gender inequality in the workplace for women in STEM professions, and a general lack of awareness of the relevance of STEM professions (Microsoft, 2017).
How We Remove It: Real-World Examples and Experience
STEMforGIRLS is an intervention program that counteracts that waning interest with real-world examples of women succeeding in and enjoying STEM professions and gives the participants hands-on experience in STEM and Skilled Trades. Our intervention means that girls become keener to choose STEM courses in high school and consider careers in a wider variety of areas.
Barrier: Lack of Confidence and Unconscious Bias
Without programs such as STEMforGIRLS, interest does not rebound organically (Microsoft, 2018) and by high school, girls are unlikely to renew their interest in STEM and are less confident performing STEM activities (Microsoft, 2018), particularly in co-ed circumstances (Leder, 2017).
How We Remove It: Members-Only Hands-On Activities
We offer members-only hands-on activities to ensure our participants’ confidence and their full participation.
Barrier: Lack of Career Guidance
Without that ongoing interest, girls are unlikely to join STEM clubs and activities. That, in turn, means that many girls do not learn how to pursue a career in STEM (Microsoft, 2018).
How We Remove It: Career Specialists and Research-Based Online Information
Our career specialists provide this much needed guidance and support and our website is filled with accurate information about how to pursue a career in STEM or the Skilled Trades.
Barrier: Reduced Access To STEM Resources in Rural Areas
Girls in small towns and rural communities are at a greater disadvantage at every stage as they are less likely to participate or have access to STEM clubs and activities, feel supported by teachers and classmates in STEM classes, and ultimately lack confidence in their own ability to learn STEM material (Microsoft, 2018).
How We Remove It: Our Digital Clubhouse
The connectivity provided by the digital clubhouse will ensure girls in rural and remote geographies continue to have a sense of community between in-person regional events and the provincial conference. STEMforGIRLS programs provide support not only for individual girls participating in the programs, but it also builds a more intrinsic and permanent base of support in educational institutions, in industry, and in the community at large.
Why is there a gender disparity in these fields?
A Problem of Perception
Eighty-five percent of school aged girls describe themselves as creative and sixty-nine percent want a job that helps the world (Choney, 2018).
Even though STEM professions are highly diverse and often require creative professionals to solve issues, only 34% of the girls surveyed think that STEM-related professionals get to be creative at their job/that that STEM-related careers are able help the world (Choney, 2018).
When these girls are given examples of real-world STEM-professions, their perception changes and they begin to consider careers in STEM and Skilled Trades.
STEMforGIRLS provides those real-world examples through our activities, our career information, and by introducing participants to our Role Models.
Lack of Visibility
It has been well documented that children are most likely to be drawn toward occupations that they associate with their own gender, occupations in which ‘people like me’ are visibly employed. Since females are concentrated in a much narrower range of occupations than males, this puts girls at a disadvantage. Girls automatically exclude a much larger number of career possibilities than boys do, based solely on this gendered association.
STEMforGIRLS programs are specifically designed to increase the visibility of women in STEM and in Skilled Trades so girls can literally see people like them working in those fields.
A Need For Gender-Aware Career Exploration
Traditional mixed-gender career exploration programs have tended to produce stereotypical results in girls' career choices.
As an all-girl program, STEMforGIRLS specifically focuses on attracting women to a wide spectrum of fulfilling careers in areas they would otherwise not consider.
We Can Address This Gender Disparity
Based on the giant strides made by women in previously male-dominated fields like medicine and law, we know that the barriers to women’s participation in a wide variety of occupations can be overcome.
In fact, many of those barriers will automatically disappear once a critical mass of women working in STEM-related fields is achieved.
STEMforGIRLS and other WRDC programs are actively engaging with girls, women, and gender-diverse workers to build that critical mass in STEM and the Skilled Trades.