Author: Ashley Wentworth
It’s time to throw a party in honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science! This special day is observed on February 11th each year to raise awareness for gender equality in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM. As a Registered Dietitian, food scientist, and a mom to a daughter, this subject could not be closer to my heart.
Despite the needle moving forward in regard to gender equality in the STEM fields, the presence of women is still severely lacking. According to United Nations statistics, on average, females make up about ⅓ or less of professionals in science-related fields. Our culture has significantly perpetuated the stereotype that only men “belong” in research and technology which is a struggle that we still face today—bias against women in science.
Where my story began
As a child, I was given the freedom to explore my interests without bias. I spent most of my time either reading or outside. We lived in the country and had access to fields, ponds, mountains, dirt roads, and the woods—most of which were right outside our door. My father was an avid, small-scale, organic gardener and we were always learning new ways to care for our vegetable plants for the best yields. Much of my time was spent outside near his garden while he worked doing things like catching bugs, swimming, walking, building small things out of sticks or rocks, and just exploring nature. Observing the outside world appealed to my natural curiosity and made me want to learn more about the creatures and plants I came across. I always wanted to know the “hows” and “whys” of things. This is likely why science appealed to me. Researching and experimenting with things to learn how they worked and why it happened in that way has always fascinated me.
As I grew older and was deciding on a career path, healthcare seemed like a good fit as it involved the things I was used to, and interested in—the “hows” and “whys” of things, as well as caring for others. With the strong values of sustainability from our family, learning more about food, nutrition, and being able to help people with that knowledge just seemed right for me. As my focus was in healthcare, I never felt like a minority in my college courses. However, this is not always the case in many STEM areas.
Breaking down barriers
Women belong in all STEM fields. Women that are currently in these fields are brave and bold. Many face bias and discrimination each day and have given up their dreams and passions because of this. Continuing to show up in science and encouraging other girls and women to explore these fields is how we will break these stereotypes and societal expectations.
How to get girls involved in STEM
Here's what you can do to encourage your daughters to get involved in STEM
- Make STEM activities a normal part of daily life.
- Offer them alongside other activities they are interested in.
- Release expectations of what they “should” be doing based on gender norms.
- Look for STEM classes or activities in your community to attend.
- Focus on activities that involve all types of subjects. For example, building structures out of blocks can use creativity, math, engineering, and problem solving skills.
- Show them examples of prominent and important women or girls in science. Find them on social media, in books, on YouTube, or anywhere!
- Emily Calendrelli, also known as “The Space Gal”, is a mechanical and aerospace engineer. She is also a speaker, children’s author, and TV show host—catch her on Netflix’s “Emily’s Wonder Lab” and FOX’s Xploration Outer Space. She is passionate about her field and making STEM more welcoming to women and girls.
- A Mighty Girl highlights many different important women and girls, many of whom were the first women in their fields.
- Involve the whole family in STEM activities regularly. Maybe one night per week could be a STEM night! Focus on just creating and make it a safe, positive environment to explore.
- Let them have fun—being too structured can make them lose interest.
- Release expectations of what genders are responsible for different tasks. Be a role model of getting kids in the kitchen or doing other household chores that are typically seen as “women’s work.”
- Don’t assign gender to different toys or activities, saying “that’s a girls toy”, for example.
- Help kids recognize that all genders belong in every career field.
Let’s inspire our girls to follow their passions and rock the STEM world, if that’s where they want to be.