Today I have the wonderful Caroline Walker on my blog. Caroline runs ConfidentTeens, an organisation which supports teen girls to value and believe in themselves. Their empowering programmes enable girls to build self-awareness, inner confidence and bigger ambitions for themselves, so they are able to best navigate their teen years and beyond. Following last weeks blog on introducing STEM activities for young children, we now look at teenagers, particularly girls, and STEM.
Encouraging girls to consider STEM careers
With 2018 marking the centenary of (some) women winning the right to vote we can celebrate the progress that has been made for girls and women in many spheres of life in the UK.
However in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers there is still much to be done. It is striking that in 2018, women make up only 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK, despite being about half of the workforce.
And we can trace this imbalance back to subject choice at A-level and university. For example in 2016 only 1.9% of girls choose Physics A-level, compared to 6.5% of boys.
The contrast between male and female participation in STEM subjects beyond GCSE is stark – according to WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) only 33% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs programme progress into any form of Level 3 core STEM qualification, whether that is via A-level, advanced apprenticeship or vocational qualification routes. This contrasts to 80% of boys from the GCSE cohort that progress to a Level 3 STEM qualification.
And this matters to the UK economy. WISE estimates the STEM worker shortfall to be approximately 69,000 per year. Without significant change, this means the UK’s vital STEM industries are under threat. WISE also estimates that 50,000 talented girls are lost every year from STEM jobs. So if we can encourage girls to consider STEM for their GCSEs and afterwards, we can all contribute to addressing this shortfall.
And there is an impact on a personal level as well; girls are missing out on more lucrative careers. For example, women with maths degrees earn 13% more than other women graduates five years after university; women with degrees in economics, requiring high levels of maths ability, earn nearly 20% more. Over a whole career, that is a massive financial difference.
I believe there is a link between the low levels of self-esteem amongst many teen girls and this low take-up of STEM subjects at A-level and beyond.
And research bears this out, even with girls who are expected to get high grades at GCSE there is an issue of confidence. In a recent study of all the girls surveyed who were expected to get grades 7-9 in maths or sciences (equivalent to A-A* previously), 50% said they agreed with the statement: “I often worry that it will be difficult for me in physics classes.”
By addressing issues of confidence and resilience, we can encourage girls to consider STEM subjects in their A-level choices. In turn this could lead to STEM degree choices and their future careers.
These three ideas encourage girls to build their confidence, and consider STEM options and careers as a result:
1. Raise aspirations
Many young people see STEM careers as the more difficult choice. So our starting point is to encourage higher aspirations so that teens consider all careers, including – but not limited to – STEM careers.
Goal-setting can form part of the way we support young people to raise their aspirations. We can start with a one month goal, and developing a step-by-step plan to achieve that goal. Once this
habit is established, three month or one year goals could be introduced. What’s key is to encourage your teenager to reflect on their achievements and progress, and celebrate this – and not just focus on the next goal.
It’s so important to encourage young people to believe in themselves – and their futures – though consistent and positive encouragement and supporting them to develop and learn.
This is well expressed by Hilary Clinton:
“To all the little girls who are watching, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”
2. Encourage curiosity for role models
Teenagers gain ideas for their careers from family members first of all, as well as from popular culture. We can support them further by encouraging a curiosity around a wide range of role models and careers, and encourage them to find out how individuals have overcome set-backs to achieve their goals.
It’s key that as adults we need to be aware – and address – any gender stereo-typing in our language when discussing different careers.
News stories can be a resource for inspiring role models, for example the female pilot, Captain Shults landing a plane after an engine exploded in Spring 2018, and the comment from newsreader Kate O’Donnell:
“Part of me hopes that many, many girls – and boys – heard that audio of a woman, in command of an aircraft, handling an emergency with calm focus and competence. In the age of Disney Princesses, Mean Girls and Barbie, we need those voices”
And expanding on the ideas of role models, perhaps there is an opportunity within your social network to arrange some work experience for your daughter, to give her the opportunity to see a STEM career in action?
3. Encourage a Growth Mindset
I believe supporting a growth mindset in teenagers is an invaluable factor in encouraging them to consider studying STEM subjects, and for their career choices.
A Growth Mindset is believing that we are all capable of developing new skills. What’s key is the effort we put in ourselves and the strategies we use in our learning and development. In contrast, a Fixed Mindset is having set ideas of what we are good or bad at (for example “I’m rubbish at maths”). With a Fixed Mindset we focus only on the end-results, with an emphasis on what other people say, rather than on our own resources, efforts and views.
By supporting young people to have a Growth Mindset leads them to relish challenges and be open-minded to their choices. Dr Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” fully expounds this concept, and gives useful insights into the language and approach we can use to encourage a growth mindset in young people.
Unfortunately there is no magic formula for addressing the shortfall in girls taking STEM subjects, but by raising aspirations, promoting a wide range of role models and encouraging a growth mindset approach we are supporting teen girls to believe in themselves, their capabilities and the possibilities for their future career – and that that could include STEM.
At Confident Teens we run Confidence and Resilience programmes in schools for teen girls, supporting girls to develop their self-belief, resourcefulness and skills for handling the pressures of the teenage years. For example, one 13 year girl fed back after participating in a programme “I’ve learnt how to value myself and everything about me” To find out more visit ConfidentTeens
Caroline Walker’s first career was in marketing, initially in the corporate world before running her own marketing business. In 2014 she was struck by how much pressure teen girls face whether that’s exam performance, their appearance, getting on with friends, worrying about their future and so much more – all lived out in the unforgiving glare of social media. Caroline retrained and established Confident Teens, an organisation supporting teen girls to be confident, resilient young women. Confident Teens runs confidence and resilience programmes in schools to support teen girls to develop pride in their individuality and develop their own strategies and skills for handling different situations.