Overcoming the gender bias: how to encourage young girls to pursue their careers in STEM

STEM letters on a circuit board


The gender imbalance in STEM fields is a well-known issue, and it's important to address it in order to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Chelsea Slater at InnovateHer (IH) shares advice on how to encourage more girls in to STEM fields.

By now it’s no secret: not enough women are taking up careers in STEM. In fact, research shows that only one in five (25%) science, tech, and engineering jobs are currently occupied by women – a trend that, unfortunately, shows no sign of reversing any time soon, despite the growing significance of these rapidly advancing fields.

The gender imbalance in STEM is nothing new. Women have been underrepresented in the sector for years, and age-old stereotypes are the root cause of the issue: stereotypes that have been engrained into our society, with self-limiting beliefs affecting girls from as young as six years old.

Various studies have shown that jobs in STEM are considered by many as a vocation reserved only for men, and that women are more likely to pursue careers in jobs that require more emotive skills such as caring and teaching. This generalisation is exacerbated by a lack of diversity in national or global tech press, which tends to feature the same list of high-profile male figures on its front pages.

The same thing is to be said for the school curriculum. In many instances children are taught about the world-changing works of Alan Turing or Tim Berners-Lee, but little is said about female pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the mathematician whose calculations sent man to the moon, computer scientist Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler, or Rosalind Franklin, the British chemist who made groundbreaking contributions to the discovery of DNA.

These trailblazing women paved the way for future generations to enter the field of STEM, and yet out of an overall 20% uptake in computer science as a GCSE subject in the UK, only 2% of pupils are girls.


Educators have both the power and the responsibility to renovate today’s out-of-date curriculum and implement new strategies that will encourage more female pupils to pursue a career in STEM.

And while it’s true that more needs to be done to make STEM subjects more attractive, educators should also be focusing on how to show students that technology opportunities are present in every single aspect of our lives.

If we can embed the need for tech in every subject that is currently taught in schools – such as geography, art and history – then we’ll be able to expose more girls to the types of careers an education in STEM can bring, which would have a positive impact on the number of girls who opt to take one of these subjects at GCSE level or above.

Additionally, the education sector needs to invest more in its faculty and source teachers with a passion for the STEM sector and an understanding of how students can utilise what they’ve learnt in the real world. When a teacher is passionate about a subject and teaches it in a way that’s exciting, memorable and away from the status quo, that passion transfers to the students and can go on to inspire them to take their education in that subject to a higher level.

That’s why bringing in female role models from the sector is so important to the uptake of STEM subjects. Industry experts can share their knowledge and experiences with students, acting as a real-life example of how people of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities can go on to have successful careers in tech. As part of our work, InnovateHer regularly introduces inspirational industry people to the students we engage with, who talk about their careers and how they entered the sector, and also answer any questions the students might have about an industry they may never had personal exposure to.

It’s things like this which have a direct impact on the confidence levels of young girls, which typically drop around the time they reach high school.

Curriculums and teachers aside, one of the most important things we can teach today’s young people is how to shift their mindset. Girls’ lack of confidence in pursuing a STEM education is not down to a lack of ability, it’s down to a lack of self-belief.

Despite female students continuing to outperform boys in STEM subject exams, when you talk about technology, girls don’t believe they can succeed in an industry that society has told them is not for them.

That’s why InnovateHer begins working with students from as young as 13, because it’s important to nurture pupils at this age so they can maintain the high confidence levels they had at primary school level.

Our goal is to teach girls to adopt a growth mind and learn how to be flexible and open to change, something we see comes from being confident – which, as we know, girls lack when faced with biases in society.

However, when we work with students on a long-term basis and continue to support and upskill them, it makes a huge difference to their confidence, self-belief and their desire to uptake the subject at GCSE level, which is what we need to see in order to close the gender gap in the STEM sector as a whole.

It’s clear that the education system needs reworking. Ultimately the STEM sector needs more women and people of diverse backgrounds. But the only way we can encourage this is to make the subjects more accessible and relatable for our young learners in the first place. Only then will we really tackle the gender biases that exist in STEM, and pave the way for more innovation, creativity and economic growth in the sector.  


InnovateHer (IH) is a social enterprise that is committed to making the tech sector more equitable, and in this article, IH founder, Chelsea Slater, will discuss the importance of early exposure to STEM education and mentors, plus the role parents, teachers, and STEM professionals must play in order to empower young girls to pursue their interests in this field.


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