CONCLUSIONS AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
- There is a general consensus that girls and boys behave differently in educational environments –in terms of motivation, interests, competitiveness or self-assurance-, and most agree on that this situation is achieved through early socialization.
- The gender gap on STEM education is mostly regarded as a consequence of prevailing stereotypes that insist on STEM being more suitable for boys, of societal concepts that lead girls’ interest to social science careers and of different cultural expectations based on gender, which put more emphasis on girls’ appearance and boys’ entrepreneurial sense.
- Career conciliation is regarded as one of the main reasons why the gender gap exists between girls who study STEM and girls who embark on a STEM career. Although further equality measures have been implemented by several European national governments (in terms of parental leave or government stipends), widespread cultural conceptions still halt employers to treat woman equally.
- A lack of information related to career paths makes it difficult, for students, to evaluate which is their preferred option. This is, in part, related to a disconnection between educational authorities and industry stakeholders. Educational careers guides should be available for students in order to teach them about labor paths and to avoid misconceptions.
- An emphasis on STEM should be set from a primary education level in order to boost girls’ natural interest in science and technology from a young age. Starting group work in STEM areas during the first school years will further diminish any potential gender differentiations. Nevertheless, in some countries, generalist teachers have not gone through any science specific formation, limiting their performance. In fact, while there is a strong emphasis on teaching mathematics lessons, and other STEM areas -such as biology or geoscience- are also introduced in primary curriculums, there is no early training when it comes to engineering, physics and chemistry.
- It has been proven that girls value mentorship very highly for bringing them huge benefits in unbalanced work environments and for helping them reach career goals. When talking about the importance of the mentor role, we understand it as a person who will lead the mentee mid to long term. This person should help the pupil understand different career paths, help build confidence and translate it to career satisfaction.
- Exposing girls to different role models can shed a light on which career paths students can follow after studying STEM degrees. If they are female role models it can also give them a sense of belonging to the STEM community and help them feel represented and encouraged. Role models do not always have to be recognized professionals but can also be other students: Young enough to understand the freshers but old enough so they can look up to them.
- Academic development can be influenced by non-academic environments. Many individuals still admit they unconsciously act in line with gender societal stereotypes. It is vital to raise awareness on the subject and encourage all parts involved in young students’ academic development (Teachers, family, friends etc.) to not carry on prejudices that could delay that development.
GOOD PRACTICES FOR AND FROM TEACHERS
Below, some tips and tricks that can be used as a teachers's good practices manual to help overcome the gender gap in STEM education. From teachers to teachers:
- Trying to teach subjects without previously acquired stereotypes that can influence pupils’ academic development.
- Leading by example. A teacher who enjoys the subject being taught and who is actively involved in the STEM community serves as an example for students and raises their level of engagement.
- Encouraging group work that involves boys and girls working together can help diminishing gender distinction.
- Creating an atmosphere of security and comfort will make pupils feel more confident with their own work and academic progress. Adapt lessons to different student behaviours so everyone can reach their full potential.
- Relating STEM subjects to real life activities by showing practical tasks that can be developed after theoretical study can show students possible future career paths.
- Contributing to out-of-school projects is also an approach to promote STEM education. It is an excellent opportunity to put into practice and give a sense of purpose to those theoretical aspects learned in class.