6 Ways Educators Can Empower Girls in STEM

Ginelle Testa

Katherine Johnson performed the complex calculations that helped humans successfully achieve space flight. 

Nettie Stevens discovered that sex is determined by 'X' and 'Y' chromosomes. 

Mae Jemison was the first woman of color in space. 

Edith Clarke was the first woman professionally employed as an electrical engineer in the U.S. 

Science isn’t just for men and boys. Women have made many contributions over the years, some of which have flown under the radar or weren’t believed until years later (Barbara McClintock discovered transposons, but she wasn’t believed until 20 years later). 

Here are some ways educators can empower girls to believe they can be in STEM, too. 

6 ways educators can empower girls in STEM

1. Introduce STEM role models

A study introducing female role models to girls in high school found that “The female role-model sessions significantly increase the positive impact of expectations of success on STEM choices.” Girls benefit from seeing themselves represented in STEM. It encourages them to think that they could one day hold a job in the field.

2. Look into female-based resources

There are a ton of empowerment STEM resources for young girls to get more involved and be supported by strong mentors. The following are resources to help girls develop their identity in STEM early on: 

3. Address barriers to entry

According to the National Science Board, despite accounting for around half of the US workforce, women in the U.S. comprised only a third (34%) of those employed in STEM occupations in 2019. Why is the number still so low? One main reason is gender bias. The gender bias can be broken down early by encouraging girls when they have passions like science or engineering but not making a huge deal out of it. Treat them the same as boys are treated.

4. Share the range of careers possible

Scientists, engineers, and medical professionals work across various fields in STEM. Maybe electrical engineering doesn’t interest someone, but perhaps aerospace engineering does! The same applies to biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, math, etc. There are so many potential career pathways for students interested in STEM. Offer exposure to these in the classroom, and you might spark interest in a female student. 

5. Acknowledge the factor race plays

The Pew Research Center states, “Black and Hispanic workers remain underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce compared with their share of all workers.” It’s especially important to acknowledge race's role in the employment disparities. 

6. Show representation in media

There’s a shortage of female representation in the media. A study found that of all STEM characters in media, men outnumbered women nearly two-to-one. Some amazing women do exist, though, that many young women and girls look up to. For example, there’s Abby Sciuto from NCIS, Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy, and Temperance Brennan from Bones. The same study found, "Nearly four-in-five study participants (82.7%) said it was important to see women STEM characters in film and television.”

Questions for reflection

  • What tips and tools do you use to empower your female students?
  • Do you use any tools in the classroom to better equip your students of all genders to tackle science? Check out Labster’s virtual labs if you’re looking for fun simulations that put your student in the role of a lab assistant!

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