Before school – By the age of 5, girls already believe that boys are better at maths (Gorbacheva, Craig, Beekhuyzen, 2014)
Year 4 – 33% of girls are confident in maths compared to 42% of boys, despite performing about the same – Office of the Chief Scientist, 2016;
Year 9 – 41% of girls are confident in applying maths concepts to real-world problems compared to 66% of boys – Office of the Chief Scientist, 2016
Year 11 and 12 – Engineering studies, Information Processes and Technology and Software Design and Development courses comprise of only 8%, 19% and 9% girls respectively. –NESA, 2018
Industry – Women account for 12.4% of engineers and 24% of the technical and professional workforce in Information and Communications Technology - Engineers Australia, 2017; Australian Computer Society, 2018
Why do girls opt-out of STEM?
The evidence shows that perceptions about gender stereotypes start forming before the age of 5. Girls start opting out of STEM play during their primary school years for a variety of reasons:
Robots, cars and construction blocks are perceived as ‘boy toys’ and girls do not identify with the stereotypical coder, builder or scientist. Watch these videos to learn more about how toys affect your child’s interest in STEM:
Let’s change this! Reflect on the toys you buy for your kids. Are they helping them develop all the skills they need for the future and keeping their minds open to all the possibilities?
From the age of 5, boys already believe that they are better at maths, and girls already think boys are better at maths. While evidence shows that there is no difference in maths ability between boys and girls, key influences can impact perceived levels of intelligence.
This UK study, 'Can our kids go gender free?', shows how boys and girls perceive themselves differently.
Social norms and expectations
From a young age, boys are typically described and praised for intelligence and strength, while girls are praised for being well-behaved and for aesthetics. Watch this video on how girls are socialised to be perfect, which contradicts the necessary failure associated with STEM.
By 6 years of age, children spend significantly more time playing with children of the same gender compared to the other gender (Maccoby and Jacklin 1987), which can increase gender-typed behaviour.
Misconceptions about STEM roles
STEM roles require a variety of skills and attributes including creativity, problem solving and the ability to collaborate. Some roles are more technical while others require more people-based skills. Read this great article by Careers with STEM breaking down some of these stereotypes.
Who are the positive role models in your child’s world? Families, teachers and friends all play an important part in influencing the interests and confidence of girls in STEM. Providing your children with a variety of role models can broaden their ideas of possible jobs in the future. Check out these women in STEM with your child!
Have any stories or questions?
Do you have any stories about how gender stereotypes have shaped your child? Or some questions about how to better engage your girls in STEM? Get in touch!