Time To De-Gender STEM Subject Choices

11th October 2021

Posted In: WMB Careers

An I Wish study has found it is time to rethink how STEM subjects are presented in schools with over three quarters (78%) of teenage girls saying lack of choices is a barrier to a career in STEM. Further obstacles outlined by young girls in the largest annual survey of its kind in Ireland included lack of confidence in their ability (77%) and a perception that there is not enough gender equality in STEM (83%).

Nine in 10 (87%) of the 2,449 respondents in I Wish’s 2021 Survey of Female Students’ Attitudes to STEM agreed science, technology, engineering and mathematics are growing areas of opportunity. However, more than half interested in studying Engineering (55%) and Construction Studies (52%) did not have access to these subjects. With the exception of Biology and Chemistry, female students are under-represented across the board in terms of STEM subjects. When asked what factors are important to them in choosing STEM subjects, just under half picked ones where they would ‘fit in’.

Striving to de-gender STEM subjects and build female students’ confidence, the I Wish report was launched to announce I Wish 2022. The acclaimed free global STEM event for female secondary school students is to be held in February next year. Registrations are now open at iwish.ie/register.

Gillian Keating, co-founder of I Wish outlined:

“The world is rapidly changing. Fifteen out of the 20 fastest growing careers in the world require a background in maths or science. However, only 25% of STEM jobs in Ireland are held by females.

If girls today perceive obstacles rather than seeing STEM pathways, we risk excluding them from the economy of the future and the pool of scientists, analysts and engineers that we so desperately need to secure a better future for us all. It is encouraging that many girls see STEM as a growing area of opportunity, and we need to build on this to create a level playing field. At I Wish we’re committed to ensuring that ‘no girl gets left behind’ and this requires the concerted effort of all to get involved and be accountable — policy makers, private sector, communities, men and women.”

Survey respondents outlined positive steps to address barriers including training awareness about STEM from a young age, enhancing confidence through mentorships, and providing access to STEM subjects. Recognising this, I Wish’s annual global STEM event is to be held virtually on 10 February 2022 and will feature some of the country’s top female STEM leaders. The largest conference of its kind, it is open to young female students worldwide. In 2021, over 15,000 viewers across 19 countries attended the showcase.

Caroline O’Driscoll, co-founder of I Wish stated:

“It is clear that knowledge is power and we can see that the sense of gender stereotyping in STEM is exacerbated by lack of access to female role models.

That said, we can see the enhanced confidence in girls through role modelling and mentoring. It’s why we launched our Mentorship Programme with Deloitte Ireland and also why we run our flagship I Wish event where we ask women to tell their incredible STEM stories. So far there are 10,000 registrations for February’s I Wish 2022 and we encourage every teenage girl in Ireland, and across the world, to attend.”

I Wish is now expanding its offerings to engage girls year-round at key touch points in their lives from Third Level with mentoring programmes; to Primary Level through classroom visits with young STEM professionals and students. I Wish’s Senior Cycle supports include internships and US/Ireland exchange programmes, while the Junior Cycle provides aligned class materials.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “As a former teacher myself, ensuring students can fulfil their potential is close to my heart. The pandemic has accelerated our use of STEM, and education in these fields is critical to future growth.

Empowering girls to enter STEM, and stay the course, is imperative.

I applaud I Wish for leading the way in advocating for women in STEM, showcasing the power of the female role model, and broadening its scope to a year-round suite of innovative and targeted activities.”

Image: MA student in the School of Applied Psychology at University College Cork, Czara Casey (centre); with Transition Year students from Mount Temple Secondary School, Malahide Aaliyah Matejko (left) and Kim Woolfson (right) launching I Wish’s 2021 Survey of Female Students’ Attitudes to STEM.