Dear Parents Everywhere,
Over the last 2 months I’ve been part of a Youth Think Tank to investigate why less than 20% of engineering students are female, and to create a website that talks about engineering in a way that’s actually interesting for teenagers. Because of my experience, I have a few insights I’d like to share with you about how to communicate with high school girls, how to talk with us about our futures and decision-making, about our attitudes towards STEM, and how gender issues affect all of this.
First of all, when talking to teenage girls, you want to make the topic sound fun and exciting. You want to convince us that we’re going to have a fun time. You want to show us the positive aspects of our future, but at the same time make us aware of the negative sides. When talking about the negative sides, try to counter it with a positive attribute. Make sure you aren’t sounding like the job they have chosen is going to be a thing they will have to stay and work for the next few decades of their life, but rather sound like it would be a privilege to work their and that everyday would be a thrilling adventure.
Secondly, if a girl is interested in STEM careers, be sure to support her in her choices and even help her in going down the right path or help her find opportunities where she will get to experience what it’s like to work there. Always encourage her, if you put her down or seem like you aren’t fully supportive and sure of the job then she will second-guess herself. Parents are the people their daughters look up to for everything, and if you aren’t there for her, she will feel as if STEM isn’t a good choice for her to pursue anymore.
Lastly, gender equality seems to play a big role. There are many reasons as to why girls aren’t enrolling in STEM careers. It could be that girls are intimidated by a dominantly male career, it could be that they aren’t confident in their abilities when comparing themselves to men (or just in general), or it could be that they haven’t even been introduced to the STEM pathway. Research shows that boys seem to be shown more of STEM-related things from a younger age than girls. Even if it’s just building things with Lego blocks, they’re taught to build and find ways to make everything fit and look good, whereas girls are given Barbie dolls to dress up and play with. In this way, we are stereotyped. Girls from a young age are shown what it’s like to be a fashion designer, or artist, or performer, where boys are brought up to be the one who is expected to support the family and do the “man’s” work.
But in reality, girls are equal to boys, and they could even bring something to STEM that men can’t. Girls are generally perfectionists and will double check to make sure everything is perfect and that there are no flaws, where boys tend to be more rash with their decisions. Girls can bring different ideas than men considering the difference in mindset of the different genders.
Support, encourage, and help girls in their decisions and always think positive. Remember that girls can do just the same as men, so don’t go doubting and second-guessing us. By doing this, you give us support and a feeling that tells us we really can do it, helping us towards our dreams.
Youth Think Tank Investigator