How to Help Girls Become NERDs: Nurtured Engineering-Ready Daughters

How to Help Girls Become NERDs: Nurtured Engineering-Ready Daughters

Editor's note: February 21-27 2016 is National Engineers Week

We all see the statistics about women in tech jobs.

Challenging statistics: Despite strong academics, young women still do not pursue STEM careers. Women earn less than 20% of all Computer Science and Engineering degrees. These numbers have decreased over the past two decades. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women made up just 18% of computer science college grads in 2012; in 1985, it was 37%. Once they earn a degree, there are hurdles to getting hired: in identical STEM resumes, those with a female name are 50% less likely to get a job offer.

Encouraging statistics: Girls' math and science scores have caught up to those of boys.And girls like STEM! In a comprehensive research study conducted by the Girl Scouts of America, they found that 74% of teen girls were interested in STEM. Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men.

Unfortunately, government reports and college statistics come decades too late. Our daughters already have opted out of math, computer science, and engineering electives. We are losing an untapped resource of young women with an interest in STEM subjects because we are not addressing their needs and nurturing these skills throughout their academic life. We can and must change that and support their engagement in STEM.

As a community of parents, educators, and engineers, here’s what we must do right now to change the future stats and help our daughters unleash their full human and economic potential.

Parents are the most important link in the STEM chain: they can encourage and nurture curiosity. "It starts with parents, and it starts with them really modeling the behavior and embracing curiosity," said New York Times bestselling author Andrea Beaty, speaking at the 2015 U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in San Diego.

1) Encourage your daughters to get involved in STEM, and also the arts, which some have linked with better math performance.This approach, known as STEAM with an “A” for arts, is at the heart of Stratford’s student success. In addition to the arts, look for fun STEM toys and provide early exposure to robotics.

2) Advocate for computer science in your school. While 9 out of 10 parents want computer science to be offered, only 1 in 4 schools teach computer programming. Women who try AP computer science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in CS in college so this exposure makes a big difference.

3) Ensure your daughter learns programming. At Stratford, we start teaching the computations skills needed for coding in preschool – yes, 4 year olds can learn these skills – and continue through middle school with Javas and Python. The Stratford she++ Junior girls coding club develops apps for social good. Encourage your daughters to learn how to program – if not at school, at a tutoring center. Then, encourage your daughters to develop apps for their passion so they stay excited and curious.

You are a powerful force for positive change.

1) Make STEM fun, and give girls equal opportunity. Create more diverse programming and STEM activities to engage girls, in the same way that role-playing video games engage boys.

2) Teach students that academic abilities are not fixed, but expandable and improvable. Provide prescriptive, informational feedback. Constructive, specific feedback is valuable for all students, but is particularly valuable for girls because of their tendency to have low self-efficacy in math and science.

3) Become an affiliate with and host an Hour of Code. Over 5000 Stratford students participated in the Hour of Code this year...including over 1900 preschoolers. Use early exposure like this to prevent gender bias before it starts.

Engineers and business leaders
You hold the keys to our economic future. STEM jobs will lead to that success…if we have the talent. The hard fact is, if half of the population opts out of STEM careers, we will continue to have a massive US technical talent shortfall.

1) Invite more women onto your team: remove potential bias in hiring by removing names from resumes. Hire women as interns, and serve as mentors and advocates to support women in leadership and management roles. Encourage them to volunteer with girls.

2) If you are in a STEM field, “Take your Daughter to Work” to show the opportunities.

3) Women in STEM: volunteer and become role models. Exposure to female role models has been shown to help girls self-efficacy. Organizations like STEM for Her, the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Technology International, Association for Women in Mathematics and Association of Women in Science, and many more offer resources and ideas for engagement. Many also link professionals to girls … when they still can be influenced.

Let’s work together to nurture our daughters' interest in STEM. It's not too late to change the statistics for the future.

Barbara Timm-Brock is Chief Operating Officer of Stratford School. She received her BS in Chemical Engineering and a MS in Management of Technology from the University of Minnesota. Stratford School an independent, private multiple campus PS – 8 school founded in Silicon Valley. Stratford offers a comprehensive STEAM education. “The curiosity to reach, the courage to graspTM.”