Home Career The key to getting girls interested in STEM can be their teacher

The key to getting girls interested in STEM can be their teacher

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One of the most influential factors in whether girls pursue a career in the tech industry is having parents or teachers who encouraged them to study computer science, according to survey by Girls Who Code and Logitech.

While there is a large proportion of women in science-related jobs in healthcare, women are still underrepresented in engineering, computer science and physics. Technology companies and K-12 schools are being asked to contribute to closing the gap.

“Across the tech industry as a whole, we see that gender equality remains a challenge,” said Delphine Donne, Logitech’s general manager and vice president of creativity and productivity. “We want to make a difference.”

“The goal is simple: to inspire more girls and young women to join and stay in STEM. But first we had to understand what women are feeling now and what successful women have done to get where they are today,” she added.

When asked who had the biggest influence on their decision to pursue a career in technology, 60 percent of adult female respondents said it was a family member or friend, and 50 percent said it was a teacher.

The poll, published on August 9, was conducted by research firm Ipsos between February 7 and 18 and asked 400 adults working in the technology and IT industry about their career path.

Four key factors were identified that helped women become successful in technology careers: early exposure, a passion for computers and how things work, the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society, and access to supportive communities. It also found that many men are unaware of the inequality women face in the tech workplace.

Early encouragement is important

According to the report, women’s interest in computer science mostly begins in high school. Women were more than twice as likely to say they became interested in computer science in middle school (38 percent) than in college (18 percent) or high school (18 percent).

That was true for 20-year-old Tiffany Aguirre, a senior at Kennesaw State University in Georgia studying computer science and information technology.

“Originally, I didn’t want to pursue a career in technology and thought I would go to school for psychology, Spanish, or nursing,” said Aguirre, whose interest in STEM began during his last semester of high school. “It wasn’t until I met my first teacher, Dr. Isi, that I became more open to the idea. She was the first woman in my life who looked like me that I saw doing technology, and with her guidance and support, I got into technology as well.”

But Ali Zendayas, 17, a senior at Cox’s Mill High School in Concord, North Carolina, became interested in STEM before high school.

“I’ve always really liked the numerical side of things, so I took a few coding classes in high school,” Zendayas said. “It was through my computer science teacher that I found out about the information technology academy at my high school. As soon as I heard about it and found out that it combined so many of the things I love: art through digital design and numbers / problem solving through coding and web development, I knew I had to apply.”

In high school, I was not a high achiever. I didn’t know aerospace engineers. I was not good at math. I was directly allergic to it.

Aisha Bowe, entrepreneur and former NASA aerospace engineer

For other women, their interest begins in college or later. That’s true for Aisha Bowe, founder and CEO of tech companies STEMBoard and Lingo and a former NASA aerospace engineer.

“In high school, I did not have high grades. I didn’t know aerospace engineers,” Bowe said. “I did not understand mathematics. I was directly allergic to it.’

But at community college, Bowe’s algebra teacher, an electrical engineer at Ford Motor Company, inspired her to pursue a career in STEM.

“She was the first person I worked with in an academic environment where she was determined to teach me in a way that I could learn,” Bowe said. “And as a result, I really felt comfortable. She was excited about engineering, and seeing her enthusiasm made me think, “Oh, wait, maybe this is fun.”

Bowe said her father also played a big role because he was getting his engineering degree at almost the same time she was, and together they encouraged each other.

Gender norms are still a barrier

Some girls, like 17-year-old Pallavi Mylar, a senior at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, have parents who work in the tech industry and have role models who make it easier for them to envision themselves in the field. But for many women, it’s hard to find inspiration to pursue a technical career because they have no role models and there is a perception that the tech industry is for men. Women (12 percent) are less likely than men (18 percent) to be inspired by a real scientist, the report found.

“I was afraid, knowing that technology is dominated by men [my mentor], at that time, no one else in my life envisioned me in technology,” Aguirre said. “It took about a year of her encouragement for me to see myself as a technologist.”

The lack of gender diversity in tech, Augiri added, is because “men are often trained from childhood to study STEM and women are not,” meaning that “women don’t envision themselves as computer scientists, engineers, etc., because they’re young they are not given the encouragement and support they need.’

Zendayas agreed: “Even at a young age, I thought the tech world was just boys writing code on computers, but it’s actually so much more than that.”

Aguirre, Bowe, Zendejas and Mylar said schools need to show girls from an early age that they belong in technology and other STEM fields. Bowe suggested creating more partnerships with STEM companies and organizations so that students can observe people working in the tech industry.

“I don’t think that’s enough to represent the subject,” Bowe said. “I think this app is really exciting.”

Aguirre, Zendejas and Mylar—all of whom have interned at tech companies like Lenovo and Microsoft—agreed that their experiences during those internships helped open their eyes to the many job opportunities at a tech company.

They suggested that too schools offer more STEM activities or incorporate STEM activities into the classroom so they know about the industry.

“It is very good for girls to take CTE [Career Technical Education] classrooms in high school, but by now a lot of girls already have it in their heads that the stereotype of boys coding all day is true,” Zendayas said. “If girls have access to coding games, web design, and technology classes in middle/elementary school, they will hopefully fall in love with it and see that they really belong in this field.”

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