The purpose of our longitudinal study is to develop ongoing insights into girls studying STEM and women pursuing STEM careers, in response to the continuing statistics evidencing the underrepresentation of women in STEM, stereotypical environments and double standards.
Our 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 representing 16 different countries world wide, focused on developing insights into the current experiences of girls studying STEM at college and University, using a mixed methods approach. Previous series have found links between the impact of early childhood interests and how they affect the pursuit of STEM careers in the future (please see our previous blog) and how higher education affects a woman’s interest and confidence in STEM (see our previous blog)
Following on from our previous 2016 findings, this series analyses the relationship between different preparation activities girls undertake related to their STEM careers with their 10 year plans and confidence ‘getting a job’.
Preparation and 10 year plan
Graph 1 shows the relationship between different preparation activities on the horizontal axis and 10 year career plans on the vertical axis; the pink bar indicates the percentage of girls who predict they will be in a STEM career in 10 years and the green bar indicates the percentage of girls who predict they will be in a non STEM career.
Results from Graph 1 indicate that girls who undertake preparations in the form of research and enrollment onto programmes are around 10% and 12% respectively more likely to pursue a STEM career in the future compared to girls who undertake preparations in the form of interview practice, attending seminars and conferences, studying for STEM and taking part in volunteer and internship opportunities. Participants expressed their concern for creating more programs focused on young girls; “Have more programs aimed at the youth” suggesting that Schools and Colleges could provide more opportunities for young girls to get involved with STEM; introducing coding clubs, women ‘role model’ guest speakers and promoting general awareness and exposure to different STEM subjects. In the long run, these early influences could foster stronger STEM identities in women helping to retain them in STEM careers.
Furthermore results indicate that overall preparations for STEM are a good protective factor against attrition from STEM in later life, with more than 60% of girls who take part in preparational activities in total having plans to stay in STEM careers. The findings may suggest that those girls who invest more time into preparation such as carrying out research activities are less likely to deviate away from STEM careers in the future.
These initial insights suggest that girls should be encouraged to take part in different preparations regarding STEM.
Preparations and Confidence
Graph 2 shows the relationship between the different preparations and the perceived confidence levels of girls ‘getting a job’ in STEM. The horizontal axis indicates the confidence scores and the vertical axis indicates the preparational activity using the colour keyed circles.
Research suggests that low ‘Professional’ confidence is a contributing factor causing attrition from STEM. Interestingly the results in graph 2 indicate a significant association between different preparations and confidence ‘getting a job’. ‘Interview practice’ as a preparation activity is associated with the least confidence, with ‘programs’ being 25% more likely to be associated with confidence in getting a job compared to interview practice, with an average score of 4.2 out of 5.
Moreover, women emphasised their concern that more programs need to be made available to help encourage young girls “There should be more accessible programs for girls at younger ages and more well-rounded visibility and representation of women in STEM fields in media“ further adding substance to the argument that society needs to be targeting STEM interest at a young age in girls, which may help build their confidence over time and suggests that media representation may hold some accountability for the confidence levels in women. Although more companies are starting to realise the benefit of employing more women in the field (see how Microsoft’s #MakeWhatsNext and Google’s madewithcode are helping to nurture young female talent with initiatives) there is still a long way to go.
‘Volunteering/internships’ were also significantly positively correlated with confidence with an average score of 4.1 out of 5, with one participant emphasizing the importance of internships in creating a more structured career focus, “Internships. Internships. I can’t stress that enough. Getting hands-on experience can be the make-or-break when deciding what field one wants to pursue”. Research was also expressed as one of the most significant preparation methods increasing confidence scoring around 4.1 out of 5, which would suggest that increasing more funding and flexibility for women pursuing research in STEM would help improve confidence and lower attrition, with participants further suggesting “in STEM fields, increased grants and scholarships will entice more females”, “Scholarships/funding for women to take postgraduate courses” as key areas that could be improved to encourage future generations of women to pursue STEM as a career.
This would suggest that ‘programs’ and ‘research’ play an important role in both attrition and confidence.
These findings may be explained using ‘investment theory’ in that preparations which involve a large amount of sacrifice and investment with regards to time make it less likely to deviate from this path even in circumstances that are adverse, thus possibly acting as a protective factor against the adverse effects to women’s confidence with regards to stereotypes and ‘masculine’ environments.
Encouraging more women to continue studying STEM
- College and Universities can help to encourage girls to take part in different preparational activities by holding different open evenings and information talks about different programmes they can get involved with.
- Increasing the awareness and accessibility of internships and volunteering opportunities for girls. This can be achieved through social media and student unions at college and universities where students can access different opportunities.
- More research opportunities for girls to get involved in at College and University. Extra curricular activities could focus on research skills and helping students develop their own interests and small independent projects.
We can change the future if we work together.
This has been the third in a series of exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers.
Andrea Lewis, Raiya Al-Ansari, Molly Goodman