An investigation of the gender gap in STEM education by Microsoft and KRC Research, based on interviews with 6,000 girls and young women aged 10 to 30, has found that the high priority placed on encouraging girls and young women into STEM in the United States has not been as successful as hoped, especially in technology and engineering.
The Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia has provided the latest Research Summary eBrief on 18 April, 2018.
The report, Closing the STEM gap: Why STEM classes and careers still lack girls and what we can do about it, found that girls’ confidence in coding and programming wanes as they get older, highlighting the need to connect STEM subjects to “real-world people and problems”, as well as tapping into girls’ desire to be creative.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the highest growth in job numbers between now and 2030 will occur in the technology sector. This is already creating unmet demand for technology and computing professionals. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled in 2018, while a survey found that 42% of STEM jobs on LinkedIn require computer science or coding skills.
A December 2017 report by LinkedIn listing the top emerging jobs in the United States over the past five years found that “tech is king”, with seven of the top ten being tech-based, including the top two emerging jobs: machine learning engineers (usually computer scientists or mathematicians who work in artificial intelligence) and data scientists.
There were 9.8 times more LinkedIn members listing machine learning engineer as their profession in 2017 than in 2012. There were also 6.5 times more data scientists, 5.5 times more big data developers, 5.5 times more full stack engineers, 5.1 times more Unity developers, 4.9 times more directors of data science, and 4.5 times more full stack developers.
Rounding out the top ten are three non-tech jobs. There are now 5.7 times more sales development representatives, 5.6 times more customer success managers, and 4.5 times more brand partners.
Underpinning these three jobs, says LinkedIn, are “traditional soft skills like communication and management”, though even these jobs require increasing levels of tech know-how.
Jobs related to wellness, flexibility and location mobility are also on the rise. Coming in at 14th place, there were 3.6 times more barre instructors than five years ago, reflecting an increased emphasis on health and fitness by young people, while licensed real estate agents occupy 15th place, increasing by 3.4 times since 2012.
The rise in these types of non-tech jobs also reflects what has been termed the “age of the customer”, where there will be an increased demand for workers to perform personalised customer service roles that cannot be automated or performed by robots.
Nevertheless, LinkedIn concludes that “the prevalence of machine learning and data science roles and skills indicates a shift in the types of technology we can expect to be using in the near future, as well as what professionals should be preparing themselves for”.
The Microsoft and KRC Research report investigating the gender gap in STEM found that one of the reasons that girls and young women fail to identify with STEM is that “they assume it doesn’t align with their desire to be creative and make an impact in the world”. Of the 6,000 survey participants, 91% of girls and 80% of young women described themselves as creative, while 72% of girls and 66% of young women said that it was important that their job or career “helps the world”.
However, as noted in the report, “relatively few girls and young women associate STEM jobs with either of those things”. As a consequence, writes Microsoft, “we are missing opportunities to teach girls and young women how varied, engaging and impactful STEM and computer science jobs can be”. Microsoft’s action plan to address the STEM gender gap includes providing female role models, generating excitement in STEM, providing hands-on experiences for girls, and encouraging a growth mindset.
Even just the simple strategy of presenting girls with brief descriptions of the real-world accomplishments of STEM professionals helps to generate interest in STEM careers. Girls who took part in the Microsoft study “dramatically” changed their perceptions after reading about real-life computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians. In some cases, “the perception of the creativity and positive impact of STEM careers more than doubled”.
In addition, the Microsoft report found that nearly two-thirds of women who work in STEM fields (64%) and technology (65%) feel that their work makes a difference in the world, compared with 57% of working women overall. As the report authors conclude:
The truth about STEM and computer science subjects and careers [is] that they are powerful creative outlets and [provide] opportunities to make a difference. They must be presented that way to connect with how girls see themselves and their futures.
In a careers market where “tech is king“ — dominating seven of the top ten emerging jobs — illuminating the exciting and world-changing opportunities that Microsoft sees for girls in STEM, particularly in technology and computing, has never been more vital.
Choney, S. (2018, March 13). Why do girls lose interest in STEM? New research has some answers — and what we can do about it. Retrieved from: https://news.microsoft.com/features/whydo-
LinkedIn (Economic Graph Team). (2017, December 7). LinkedIn’s 2017 U.S. emerging jobs report.
Retrieved from: https://economicgraph.linkedin.com/research/LinkedIns-2017-US-Emerging-Jobs-Report
Microsoft and KRC Research. (2018). Closing the STEM gap: Why STEM classes and careers still
lack girls and what we can do about it. Retrieved from: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/digitalskills/girls-stem-cs
Smithsonian Science Education Center. (2018). The STEM imperative. Retrieved from: https://ssec.si.edu/stem-imperative
...one of the reasons that girls and young women fail to identify with STEM is that “they assume it doesn’t align with their desire to be creative and make an impact in the world”.