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article imageCultural barriers to overcome for women to enter STEM: Study

By Tim Sandle     Mar 10, 2019 in Technology
Toronto - A new report from the education and advocacy body Girls Who Code reveals the extent of the cultural barriers in place, acting as societal blockages in terms of expanding the number of women in STEM professions.
Girls Who Code is a non-profit working to close the gender gap in technology by teaching young girls computer science. A new report, focusing on issues of gender, education and STEM professions in Canada ("Canadian Women and Girls in STEM") is revealing about the cultural barriers in place that are preventing many young women from realizing their potential in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Girls Who Code was began in the U.S. in 2012 and it launched in Canada in November 2018, and the organization has been expanding its activities over the past few months (see the Digital Journal article "Girls Who Code announce expansion plans").
Coding should have no gender differences
The number of women in technical fields is far below the average number of males, especially in high-income countries. While activities like coding should have no gender differences, research suggests that gender differences in STEM are already present by the time students reach secondary schools (aged between 12 to 15 years). The way subjects are taught, the encouragement of teachers, how societal values and cultural expectations are addressed are all significant if young women are to see STEM subjects as viable career choices, according to a study published by Cornell University: "Adolescence is a critical time for identity formation, and self-attributes are a source for internal conflicts, especially for female teenagers."
New research
The extent of these barriers in Canada are apparent in the new report from Girls Who Code. The report contains a number of interesting findings. The first relates to gender role stereotyping. When polled, 82 percent of Canadians said they picture a man when they imagine a computer scientist. This perhaps because of issues surrounding the relative lack of publicity that women in science receive, as indicated by the finding that 1 in 2 Canadians cannot name a single woman scientist or engineer.
In terms of the inspirational gap between men and women, from females who were polled just 9 percent of Canadian women said they had ever dreamed of becoming a computer scientist as a child. In contrast, 17 percent of men said they grew up dreaming to be scientists one day.
Overcoming cultural factors
To overcome such cultural factors, Girls Who Code wish to promote coding in schools early. This mission gained support from the finding that 75 percent of Canadians believe exposing girls to coding programs would lead to increased interest in pursuing STEM careers. A further factor to help overcome societal issues was contained in the finding that 3 in 4 Canadians believe increased media representation will help close the gender gap in STEM.
Some positive indicators from the survey were with the younger generation having a higher likelihood of a female scientist role model. This bubbling trend plus the work of organizations like Girls Who Code shows that societies can shift and underlying cultures are open to change.
More about Stem, girls who code, Coding, Gender
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