There is a well-known gap between girls and boys when it comes to interest in STEM careers. And evidence shows that that gap may be widening based on a survey from Junior Achievement, a non-government organization that prepares youth for future jobs.
What is interesting is that, according to a study by the British government, girls do better than boys in exams in STEM subjects, which suggests that girls’ self-confidence in their ability may be what’s holding them back. According to Junior Achievement’s survey, only 9 percent of teenage girls are interested in pursuing STEM careers, and many cite a lack of support and mentorship. The survey was conducted from April 16-21, 2019, and included 1,004 students ages 13-17 in the United States.
The reported interest in STEM among girls is down from 11 percent in a similar 2018 survey. Among boys, interest in STEM careers increased from 24 percent in 2018 to 27 percent in 2019."The decline of interest in STEM careers is disappointing given how much emphasis is being placed on promoting STEM to girls," says Jack Kosakowski, president and CEO of the Junior Achievement USA. "One element that may need to be emphasized more is ensuring that STEM professionals are serving as role models and working with girls in educational settings as part of these initiatives," he notes.
To help support and encourage girls as well as boys to maintain their interest in STEM careers, Junior Achievement brings STEM professionals to classrooms to provide career readiness programs. These volunteers share their experiences and detail the steps they took to achieve their current positions in STEM fields. So students see real-life examples of the value of acquiring skills in math, science, coding, and composition. In addition, the organization offers a JA Job Shadow program for high school students. The program involves three 45-minute classroom sessions and a four-to-five-hour visit to a professional work environment. From a STEM perspective, this experience could have a significant impact on girls.
A survey conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that many teens feel they don’t have mentors or role models for STEM careers. A job shadow program that gives girls a chance to see female STEM professionals in action may be the boost they need to stay motivated to pursue similar careers themselves. In a survey of the Junior Achievement alumni conducted in 2016-2017, 1 in 5 respondents reported that they have worked or currently work in the same field as a Junior Achievement professional volunteer who mentored them in high school. Visit ja.org for more information about the Junior Achievement and the job shadow program.