Closing the Gap: Advancing Women in STEM

It’s that International Women’s Day time again, and it’s fantastic to see a day celebrating and uplifting females being recognised with greater fanfare all over the world. However, an occasion such as this is not just to celebrate and recognise the achievements of women. It also highlights the journey towards gender equality, and how far there is still to go. We are privileged at Student Horizons to be able to provide opportunities for learning and travel to young people. But it is clear to us that a gender balance is still lacking in certain areas of study. This is particularly noticeable in all of the STEM fields. At the root of the problem is the clear shortage of girls and young women in STEM classes. Getting girls into STEM education early will lead them to opportunities such as overseas STEM tours. A tour is a fantastic way to show young people the validity of these fields. This, in turn, has a big impact on the number of women in STEM careers.

Women in STEM

Current Situation

The current data on women in STEM shows a clear disparity, and one that we believe is important to change. Research recently conducted by Dr.Shalini Kesar, in collaboration with Microsoft, showed that:

  • There is a lack of mentors and role models. Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. They need women in STEM jobs to look up to, to help them see those jobs as a possibility for themselves. Girls would also benefit from more exposure to the kinds of STEM jobs that are out there. This will help them see a clear path for themselves.
  • Girls show a strong desire to be creative and make a difference with their careers. Many people perceive the STEM fields to be purely logical, analytical, and methodical. For young women who place a high priority on creativity and humanitarianism, it can be difficult to see how a career in STEM can give them this. But even a little exposure to real-world applications of STEM makes a dramatic difference to this belief.

What can you do as a teacher to change this situation?


1. Be a role model.

You’ve heard it before, and it’s incredibly relevant here: representation matters. If girls have only ever seen a man in these jobs, it takes a pretty determined and driven young person to go after a goal that feels so far removed from their reality. Having a woman they look up to in a STEM career encourages young girls to aspire to that same thing. And more importantly, it shows them that not only is it possible to have a fulfilling career as a woman in STEM, it was achieved by someone they know and can relate to! If you’re a male teacher, be sure to pay attention to the girls in your class. Encourage them to ask questions. Involve them in problem-solving and class discussions. And use examples relating to females in the industry. Many girls still think of STEM as a man’s world, so it is very valuable to have men in their lives telling them that they can go for it, too!


2. Make it creative.

STEM is often considered an exclusively left-brained area of study, without much room for creativity. It’s important to show your students that coming up with ideas and solving problems in STEM is creative. Dr Kesar’s study showed that 91% of girls aged 10-17 describe themselves as creative. Therefore, showing them the potential for creativity in STEM can be a very exciting revelation.


3. Provide hands-on experience.

A great way to engage students on a subject – any subject! – is by giving them practical methods of learning. Experiments, projects, activities, anything that’s fun! Making girls feel like they are doing and achieving something real is a great way to increase their enjoyment. What better way to get more women in STEM than to get more girls taking up STEM-related hobbies? Clubs are also a great way to introduce the fun side of learning these subjects – and keeping that interest going! A girl is more likely to choose STEM and computer science as an area of secondary or tertiary study, or potential career, if she has been involved with a club.


4. Show the impact of STEM.

If girls aren’t able to see how a career in STEM can help them make a difference, you can change that! You can help them see the many ways in which STEM can – and has – been used to benefit modern society. People all around the world are using STEM to make headway on serious issues. These can range from protecting our planet to making life easier for people with disabilities. Clear examples of such uses as these will go a long way to inspiring these girls. Having more women in STEM means putting a great deal of empathy into a powerful position to effect change. Sounds good to us!


5. Demonstrate a path forward.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ This refers not only to having women in STEM to look up to, but to understand the jobs that they could do, and how to work towards them. Teachers can make a conscious effort to relate class modules to the careers they can apply to. Make yourself available for career advice – and help them to recognise their career-relevant skills. Understanding what they need to do in order to pursue a career they’re interested in will encourage girls to take those steps. Be sure to give examples of specific jobs your students can do with STEM skills. Simply saying that studying engineering at university will lead to a job isn’t relatable. Telling them a story about cousin Amy’s job as a product designer at Fisher and Paykel, however, is!


Women in STEM


How a STEM tour can fulfill all these steps – and more!

An overseas STEM tour is the ideal way to achieve all of these goals, and help increase the number of women in STEM. It will effectively incorporate these methods into your students’ learning experience in a way that has a lasting impact. The excitement of an overseas tour will also go a long way to facilitate girls’ interest in STEM.

It introduces role models

  • A STEM tour provides a wide variety of places to visit and experts to hear from. Your students will certainly meet some new female role models working in interesting STEM jobs. We can work with you to ensure that your students will interact with inspiring woman in STEM roles on their tour.

It demonstrates creativity

  • On an overseas STEM tour, your students will get to see the inner workings of innovative companies. They will be taking part in workshops and Q&As, and getting a look at projects currently in progress. These insights will help girls to see the creative outlet of STEM.

Girls in STEM

It provides hands-on experiences

  • All our STEM tours include workshops, in which students get the chance to have a go at projects themselves! From the Astronaut Training Experience at NASA to trying out the newest technologies in Silicon Valley, girls will be able to engage with their learning like never before.

It shows the impact of STEM

  • How better to demonstrate the positive impact a STEM education can have than to see it for themselves? You will be able to visit some of the world’s most forward-thinking companies and hear about their plans for the future. Talking to the people using their STEM careers to change the world will have a huge influence on girls wanting to do the same.

It demonstrates a path forward

  • Going out into the world and seeing the real-life applications of a STEM education is perhaps more valuable than any amount of verbal encouragement. Girls who go on an overseas STEM tour will see for themselves the paths that are open to them. They might even return from their tour with a clear goal in mind.

STEM tours for girls

We think that, with the encouragement and understanding provided by a STEM tour, we can make a big difference to the future of women in STEM. Closing the gender gap in these industries starts with making those fields more appealing and more accessible for girls. We’re keen to get started! Are you?


You can read the complete research here:

March 8, 2020


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