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Hot topic: More women in STEM, part two

How can business and education make STEM subjects and jobs more appealing to girls?

Recent research has revealed gender stereotypes are still prevalent in the classroom, with more boys than girls selecting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. How can business and education make STEM subjects and jobs more appealing to girls?

"Job options presented to children have scarcely moved on from the days of the Happy Families card game. If a girl likes science we encourage her to be a doctor or a vet. No one mentions IT or engineering – yet these areas face the biggest skills shortages.

A-level subject choice is still gendered. This matters because the subjects typically chosen by girls are not the ones in demand by employers and will exclude them from higher-paid jobs. This year 21,000 more boys than girls did A-level maths and nearly as many more did A-level physics. Only 142 girls did computer science. It isn’t that girls can’t do these subjects – those that do get the same or better results.

Girls reject maths, physics and computing because the stereotypical identity of a person who likes these subjects conflicts with how they see themselves. Girls are more likely to consider studying a subject if it keeps their options open, they see themselves working in that area, or they think they will ‘fit in’ and be working with people like them.

Research tells us that half the population (mainly males) construct and articulate their self-identity using verbs, and the other half (mainly females) use adjectives. The problem is that science careers are articulated entirely using verbs – what scientists and engineers ‘do’. Careers advisers and recruiters rarely use adjectives to describe the attributes and personalities of people who work in science, technology and engineering. This then excludes the half of the population that identify themselves using adjectives.

WISE recommends a different approach. Using a quiz to identify which type they are, our People Like Me resource connects girls with people just like them who are happy and successful working in STEM careers."

Helen Wollaston is the director of the WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) Campaign

Read the first part of this Hot Topic by AECOM's Charlie Weatherhogg