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STEM subjects still subject to gender stereotype

Girls get a taste for STEM subjects as parents admit to gender stereotyping in new research from Accenture

Posted by Sophie Beyer | February 15, 2017 | Secondary

New research recently released found that girls are more likely to make stereotypical associations about STEM subject than boys.

Accenture’s survey of more than 8,500 young people, parents and teachers uncovered some of the barriers to girls pursuing STEM subjects and careers. More than half of both parents (52%) and teachers (57%) admit to having themselves made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in relation to STEM, and over half (54%) of teachers claim to have seen girls dropping STEM subjects at school due to pressure from parents.

Inspiring more girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers will not only help us to address the skills gap in science and technology, it will also help us to create a more diverse workforce that truly represents the world we live in

Accenture and Stemmettes teamed up to offer girls a taste of science to overcome these unconscious stereotypes.  The UK ‘Girls in STEM’ events hosted by Accenture and Stemettes featured a series of inspiring talks and interactive workshops, and were mirrored across the globe in Accenture office locations in France, India and the US. In the UK, hundreds of girls joined the event attendees from their school classrooms via live video streams using Periscope.

“Girls’ engagement with STEM is clearly waning as they reach the age when they begin to consider their subject choices and future careers,” said Emma McGuigan, senior managing director for Accenture Technology in the UK & Ireland. “We have to address this by doing more to spark and retain girls’ interest in STEM at an early age, while expanding perceptions and demonstrating what a career or a person who works in STEM looks like beyond the traditional stereotypes. Inspiring more girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers will not only help us to address the skills gap in science and technology, it will also help us to create a more diverse workforce that truly represents the world we live in.”

The research found evidence of gender stereotyping and bias around STEM subjects. Almost a third (32%) of young people think that more boys choose STEM subjects than girls because they match ‘male’ careers or jobs. The perception that STEM subjects are for boys only is the primary reason that teachers believe few girls take up these subjects at school.

The survey reveals a disparity between girls’ and boys’ perceptions of STEM subjects, with girls more likely to view them as ‘academic’ and ‘boring’. The findings also point to a significant dip in girls’ enjoyment of traditional STEM subjects such as Mathematics and Computer Science as they enter secondary school. Among the 7-11 age group, 50% of girls describe these subjects as fun and enjoyable, but this drops to 31% and 36% respectively in the 11-14 age group.

"These findings show the scope of work there is still to do”, said Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO at Stemettes. “Our collaboration with fantastic companies like Accenture allows us to share the right messages to positively impact these young women across geographies. We'll also be handling the follow-up to ensure these girls reach their potential despite wider attitudes.”

The UK events featured speakers including Dr Raeanne Miller, one of only 78 women globally to be selected for an Antarctica expedition, and Sheila Kanani, education, outreach & diversity officer at the Royal Astronomical Society. The girls also participated in coding sessions led by Stemettes, using AppShed’s Internet of Things technology to create apps with the ability to control electronic devices anywhere in the world.

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