Engaging girls in STEM careers


A major challenge in addressing student motivation for STEM studies and careers is the involvement of girls. Girls are relatively high achievers in STEM, nevertheless this high achievement fails to translate into interest in STEM and STEM careers. This contributes to a major part of the skills gap: if girls chose STEM careers as frequently as boys, much of the skills gap would be filled.

Where are we now?

There are some indications that levels of girls' interest in STEM are starting to change. For instance in the many countries, girls frequently report that they are interested in societal STEM issues (e.g. climate change) despite having a negative view of STEM jobs. However, this interest is not yet reflected in increased higher level, post-secondary study and career choices.

There are few major cross-national initiatives aiming to increase female participation, such as the "Science - it's a girl thing" campaign, the European Commission's European Union Competition for Young Scientists (EUCYS), Girls' Day and the TechGirls initiative. At national level, targeted activities are more common in countries such as the UK, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. 

Finally, teachers state that teaching diverse groups in attractive way is a challenge; Text books and other teaching materials tend to show stereotyped images of scientists, with little representation of women or minorities. Only few programmes exist to support teachers in opening up their teaching to a more diversed target group and text books are often slow to be adapted - especially in snaller linguistic markets where publishers do not frequently release new editions.


A number of key challenges remain to be addressed, summarized as follows:

  1. Efforts to stimulate a better gender balance in STEM education initiatives need to be better evaluated. Numerous measures exists, but few have proven to have impact.Many are implemented prospectively, with insufficient consideration to assessing the impact.

  2. Use of diverse images in promotional materials and a range of role models in informal education is common and important and must be continued. Care should be taken in event programs that equally diverse role models and speakers are engaged, to give students real life role models.

  3. There needs to be more focus on the role of teachers and teaching materials in encouraging diversity in STEM. Giving teachers training in how to appeal to diverse ranges of stundets is of key importance. Publishers and other organisations providing teaching and learning materials must also take care to include diverse images of scientists and technologists.