1. Provide encouragement
2. Build confidence
3. Make friends with failure
4. Encourage your daughter’s questions
5. Seek out positive role models
6. Check your own bias
7. Challenge stereotypes
8. Bring STEM home
When it comes to careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), women are still underrepresented. In fact, women make up just a quarter of the STEM workforce. Research shows that boys and girls show equal interest in STEM in primary school. As they hit secondary school, girls tend to lose interest in STEM subjects, despite still having the same level of ability as boys.
So, with fewer young women than men taking up careers in STEM fields, what can we do? Well, The International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th provides the perfect opportunity to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in. We’ve put together a list of key ways to help your daughter embrace and develop her STEM self-image - also known as her ‘STEM-identity’.🥼❣️
As a parent, it’s natural to encourage our kids in their favoured field. It’s important to set the same expectations for achievement in all areas. This doesn’t mean demanding straight As across the board – it’s more about making it clear that all subjects, including STEM, can be equally useful and fascinating.
By providing support and encouragement, you can help your daughter build a solid foundation of STEM subjects as well as a positive self-image about her abilities. Anything can be a learning opportunity. Simple tasks like shopping for the right maths equipment can lead to a chat about what each bit of kit does and how it works. If you’re not sure, you can find out together.
Whether you loved or hated STEM subjects at school, it’s important not to let your own feelings affect how your daughter sees them. If you find yourself wanting to say ‘Well, I studied that at school but never needed it,’ hold fire. Negativity from parents and carers can limit a child’s motivation. You may never have used Pythagoras’ theorem, but your future engineer might. 📐
It’s common for people of all ages to think that boys and men have natural scientific ability. This simply isn’t true. A recent study highlighted that primary-school aged girls tend to underestimate their performance in science. The worrying thing about this is that there is no difference in performance between boys and girls at this level.
Girls and young women often struggle with getting things wrong and making mistakes. However, trial and error are key to reaching solutions across all STEM subjects. Remind your daughter that mistakes and setbacks are what help us to learn and develop. 🧗
Make friends with failure
Having a positive attitude to failure stops us from avoiding challenges for fear of getting things wrong. Kids are less likely to try to hide their unsuccessful attempts at something if they know how to learn from mistakes. 🌧️🌈
Here are a few ideas to help you and your daughter make friends with failure:
- Model making mistakes
When you make mistakes, react positively rather than negatively. Talk openly about what you can learn from them. Focus on the learning rather than getting it right.
- Discuss your own failures
Talk about times when you found something difficult and discuss how you got through it. This is a great one to do around the dinner table. Open up the discussion and get everyone in the family to share their experiences. Your kids might not be able to come up with ideas instantly. You can help them by reminding them of times when you’ve seen them struggle and learn from it.
- Encourage ‘falling forward’
This means focussing on the positive side of failure – discussing what you’ve learnt from it and what you’ll do differently next time. Explain that failure helps your brain to grow.
- Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness helps build resilience. It enables people of all ages to respond to big feelings (such as frustration caused by failure) instead of just reacting to them. There are a wealth of free mindfulness resources available online.
Encourage your daughter’s questions
Children have a natural curiosity about the things around them - and an inquisitive mind-set is useful when approaching STEM activities. Ensure that your daughter knows that it’s okay not to have all the answers and that it’s important to ask questions. Trial and error is a key part of problem-solving so make sure they see all attempts, including mistakes , as part of the process. 🧪
When we’re learning, it’s easy to see academic or professional success as the peak of knowledge. In reality it’s often the questions we ask along the way that help us get there.
Seek out positive role models
As Maria Wright Edelman, a prominent Children’s rights activist, famously said, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’
Identifying with successful female STEM professionals is incredibly important for young girls and women. It provides proof that they can aspire to and achieve whatever they want. It’s also been shown that seeing female professionals and educators in STEM subjects helps boost girls’ motivation to go into STEM careers. 👩🏽🔬
There are many wonderful books for children detailing the lives and achievements of incredible women in maths, technology and other STEM-related fields. Make these a part of your library and read and discuss them together.
To provide greater real-world connection, get your daughter to talk to family, friends or people in your community who work in STEM fields. Encourage her to ask them about what they do, how they do it and how they got into it. If there’s someone who can act as a mentor, then do whatever you can to foster that connection.
Check your own bias
Gender stereotypes are everywhere, and they’re sometimes incredibly subtle. They have a way of seeping into our consciousness so it’s important to think about whether gender is influencing the way you parent. It’s useful to try and recognise and correct any stereotypical views that you hear yourself thinking or saying. 🙊
Research shows that when it comes to ability in STEM subjects, there’s little separating boys’ and girls’ abilities. In spite of this, many parents think that girls need to work harder than boys to do well in these subjects. There’s also a tendency to think that maths is less useful or important for girls. By thinking about and challenging our own parental bias, we can help level the ground for our girls.
From the patterns retailers choose for children’s clothing to the pink aisle in toy shops, gender stereotypes are visible from birth. Although things are slowly getting better, advertisers still push strongly biased images at us from all angles. Here are a few things you can do to challenge gender stereotypes. ⚔️
- Offer the opportunity to try out a range of toys, sports and activities
- Disrupt stereotypes by talking openly about how men and women can do things equally.
- In mixed gender households, address gender stereotypes at home by allocating tasks equally.
- Praise efforts and achievements rather that appearance
- Encourage mixed friendships and participation in mixed gender activities
- Seek out books that celebrate female success in STEM and in life.
- Expose your daughter to a range of role models with various backgrounds and professions.
- Remind your daughter that she is not limited by her gender.
Bring STEM home
One way of encouraging your daughter’s interest in STEM subjects is to make them part of your everyday activities.
- Experiment at home
Help your child embrace and improve their science skills by conducting fun experiments at home. This doesn’t require specialist knowledge – just a bit of enthusiasm and the willingness to get it wrong until you get it right. Whether you build a speaker or make a lava lamp, the experimenting you do along the way will generate positive memories and feelings about STEM activities. 📈
- Play games with maths
Whether you play with maths with your toddler or encourage maths games with your child, making it fun is key to learning and avoiding maths anxiety. You can also create your own maths problems on the fly. For example, you could encourage your daughter to use their maths skills to estimate the cost of your shopping basket or to work out how much is saved in a particular deal.
- Get your toolbox out
It’s important for girls to learn about different tools and what they do. Let them tinker with screwdrivers and spanners so they can get hands-on experience of building things and taking them apart. It’s a simple, fun way to encourage their inner engineer. Point out how STEM subjects have been used in the things around you – from the engineering in bikes to the technology used in apps. 🛠️