I am a strong believer in the STEM program for young children, but in this blog I want to address young girls in particular because the so-called “leaky” pipeline of engineering talent is seen predominantly at age 16, but typically the decision is made around age 14 or so. The exception with the “leaky” pipeline being predominantly about women does still exist at younger ages, but studies show that the proportion of bachelor degree recipients who go on to earn a PhD lose men and women equally.
Research commissioned by PwC UK indicates:
…that, in most ‘first world’ countries, entry-level men and women in the professional services sector are hired at an equal (1:1) rate. However, evidence exists that women are lost from the pipeline through voluntary termination at a rate two or three times faster than men once they have attained the experienced, mid-career, Manager/Senior Manager level of their careers.
My main focus here; however, is on much younger women and children. I will choose, as an example, the Alton Convent School in Hampshire, UK. I was very impressed with their curriculum for children as early as six months up until age 18, including those critical ages from 14 to 16.
Let’s remove from the equation, for the time being, the cost to attend this school which is relatively on the high side. I want to address the technique used, not the cost here. First of all the schools works with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). The WES has new SPARKS program, a mechanism which provides ongoing encouragement for girls who express an interest in STEM and seeks to address the STEM opt out rate for girls during the critical teenage years by employing a targeted stream of communication.
We need to “fan the fire” during the critical ages between STEM efforts and the point in their life at which they finally are ready to choose a career. The most recent research shows:
…that in an engineering and technology context, females are typically more interested in the bigger picture, the environmental and social benefits along with ethics and interaction with people. Furthermore the application of engineering to design, medicine, sports, information, environment and agriculture has been revealed to be particularly appealing to females.
The Alton Convent School’s motto is “Be the best that you can be.” Girls need the environment and the support to excel in the career of their choice as well as becoming well-rounded individuals. Schools like this create an awareness of the exciting opportunities that are opened up by pursuing math and science. Local communities and business are critical to these girls to show what engineering is really all about and what can be done by employing math and science in the real world outside of textbooks.
Families also must be involved by identifying family members who have science qualifications that can discuss what they do that might “light the fire” in a young girl.
Of course, all of this applies to boys as well, but I wanted to bring out some of the pointed different challenges girls face as well as their interests which may include different care-abouts than boys. Plus the fact is there are far less women in engineering than men and there is no reason for that not to change.
Please give me your experiences and opinions on this subject