‘Nurture’ Provides Key Solution to Getting More Female into STEM
One country is ahead of the rest when it comes to nurturing tech talent, and it probably isn’t your first guess.
4 min read
“No industry or country can reach its full potential until women reach their full potential. This is especially true of science and technology, where women with a surplus of talent still face a deficit of opportunity.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org.
The cries have been heard and are getting louder and louder: the technology industry lacks diversity. It is no news that women and minorities are clearly underrepresented compared to their white male counterparts. While some began taking actions in diversifying their workforce, big and small companies alike are struggling because the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] talent pool for female and minorities candidates is smaller.
It may be surprising to hear that the one country that has the leading percentage (41%) of women in scientific research is none other than Russia. (Also, Russia’s number of female inventors is at least three times more that of the western countries.) While the U.S. saw a stagnating population of women (including minority women) pursuing degrees in various science and engineering disciplines—from computer science, mathematics to social sciences—Russia has a different story to tell. So what differentiates the two? The secret behind the latter’s success in encouraging more women to pursue STEM lies in Russia’s nurturing environment.
In Russia, both boys and girls are exposed to science and technology at a young age. As a result, the children are more likely to develop lasting interests in these subjects. Some even say the country’s high participation rate of females in STEM is rooted in its culture—tracing back to the Soviet era, “where science was proclaimed a national priority and technical education was open to everyone, regardless of gender.” In addition, there are more female teachers who help create more gender neutral curriculum at schools; more parents who are supportive for young girls to take on STEM-related paths; and more female role models in the STEM industries who inspire and challenge gender stereotypes like ‘men perform better than women in sciences and maths.’
Of course, while not entirely nonexistent, stereotypes of ‘the tech industry being a man’s world’ do not stop Russian girls from taking STEM seriously. In fact, many girls are determined to excel in STEM fields because they knew their future employment opportunities are more likely to be in STEM fields. However, studies have shown that negative stereotypes do lower girls’ interests and affect their performance in math and sciences, despite being equally capable as the boys. Finding also shows that when parents and teachers tell girls that their intelligence can expand with experience and learning, girls do better on math tests and are more likely to say they want to continue to study STEM subjects in the future. By creating a ‘growth mindset’ environment, we can truly unleash the potential of both boys and girls and treat STEM as a gender-free terrain.
As seen in Russia’s case, a nurturing environment has significant influences. More specifically, family support and education play vital roles in nurturing youths and combating the issue of insufficient female talents for STEM careers. Girls should not be raised to think that they can only play dolls and playhouse, or require more attention when it comes to ‘harder subjects’ like computer science. “I truly believe the root cause for [the lack of women in tech industry] is the fact that girls have been funneled away from STEM, causing the gender imbalance from the time that kids are four and five years old,” says Jon Mattingly, co-founder and CEO of Kodable, an education-tech startup that offers lessons to educators to help them teach students to code.
Fortunately, an increasing number of schools, programs and activities are targeting girls to help them understand and engage in STEM fields. For instance, in 2016, 49 percent of students participating in an “Hour of Code” were female. Also, General Electric Company (GE) has been partnering with The Institute’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) to host GE Girls @ Tech, which provides a safe, fun environment for middle-school girls to meet and work with female leaders at GE, as well as female students and professors at Georgia Tech.
In this time and age where female professionals have made much progress in career development, there still remains plenty room for improvement in the STEM fields. Just recently, a U.S. survey focusing on more than 150,000 students from 6th-12th grade revealed girls to be 86% less likely than boys to choose a computing career. The number is alarming but changes can and must be made. The foundation for a STEM career is laid early in life—with the support of parents and the introduction of those subjects in elementary through high school—but scientists and engineers are made in colleges and universities, then recognised and respected in their post-grad careers. A nurturing environment for both boys and girls is necessary for more talents to be in STEM.
A recent graduate of New York University, Vivien Li is a global storyteller, curious traveler and aspiring foodie. Growing up with a bicultural background (Taiwanese and American), she is deeply passionate in learning about cultures across the world, and spent 4 semesters studying away: from London, Washington DC to Prague. With a major in Media, Culture and Communication and interests in technology and business, Vivien enjoys listening to, sharing, and voicing ideas of her own and from different people, and hopes to bring positive impact through her work and writing—starting with SheCanCode.