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Stemming the Gender Gap in STEM

Are you a female university-bound student interested in pursuing a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Medical (STEM) degree? These are fields in which women are far less represented than men, but there are schools and strategies that are shrinking the gender gap.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) finds that girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their access and opportunities to go into these fields as adults. Research shows that even 6-year old children begin identifying things relating to numbers, building, and machines with boys rather than girls, and that girls' confidence in subjects like science and math drops off in middle school. In a high-school survey in the UK, only 8% of students could identify a prominent woman -- past or present -- in a STEM field.

At university, the numbers improve. In the U.S. in 2021, women, who made up over 56.8% of all undergraduates, comprised a majority of 52.8% of undergraduates in all science fields. However, the gender disparity persisted in engineering and computing, where women accounted for only 18.6% and 17.7% of enrolled students, respectively.

After university, the careers pipeline for talented STEM women is leaky. The majority status women wielded in science-related fields at university drops significantly as they enter the workplace, where, according to The World Economic Forum, they account for 29.2% of STEM workers globally. AAUW pegs the figure at 34% in the US. The drop is even more pronounced at the top of the careers hierarchy, where women account for only 12.4% of C-Suite executives in STEM-related firms.

So what can be done? There is cause for optimism, since there is growing global awareness that the STEM imbalance must be addressed to promote gender equity and economic opportunity and, increasingly, respond to climate change. For example, many organisations are currently involved in efforts to spark interest and support girls’ persistence in STEM education in K-12 schools. Coding programmes for girls abound. Many universities are intensifying recruiting efforts among prospective female STEM students and creating funding and campus schemes to encourage them. The most proactive ones are supplying resources to help them succeed academically and navigate careers.

University-bound students planning to apply to supportive, gender gap-bashing STEM schools should look for: 

STEM colleges and courses with diverse faculty. Mentors come in all genders, colours, shapes, and sizes, but numerous student testimonials affirm the importance of having a female faculty role model. 

Ratio of female to male students. Many female STEM students have cited the importance of having a sizeable female cohort in their classes for the purposes of support and networking.

High retention and graduation rates for women in STEM. The number of women STEM graduates who decline to pursue a STEM career is significant. Look for universities that offer mentoring, internships, and support services to help female STEM students  succeed in their courses and thrive in STEM professionally.

Partnerships. Female STEM students can benefit from numerous external programmes and resources that may be associated with the university curriculum. They are offered by groups that include the international Women Inspiring Girls and Women in STEM Excellence (WISE), the U.S. National Center for Women and Information Technology, and Women in STEM UK

Contact University Bound for help with your research, your planning, and your list.

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