Why STEM Matters for Girls: The Girl Scout Difference

Over the summer, Girl Scouts announced 30 new STEM badges for girls as well as new journeys. In November 2017, the organization pledged to raise $70 million to help bring 2.5 million girls into the STEM pipeline by 2025. While many viewed this news with enthusiasm, some still ask why it matters. Others argue not every girl wants to be in a STEM field and worry Girl Scouts is moving away from its roots in the outdoors. We’re here to help you understand.

What is STEM?

Before we continue, it’s important to identify exactly what STEM is. The acronym stands for science, technology, mathematics, and engineering, four subjects most girls in the United States will be exposed to, yet few will pursue.

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Why don’t more girls pursue STEM fields?

Think about the clothes you’ve seen in the kids section. The girls have frilly shirts covered with sparkles, claiming things like ‘when I grow up, I want to be a mermaid’ or ‘princess’ or ‘unicorn.’ Meanwhile boys clothes will say things like ‘astronaut.’

Realize it or not, girls are conditioned to think about more ‘feminine’ careers from a young age. This is encouraged through stereotypes and the underlying current of sexism that still plagues our society. One of our studies found that girls were less likely to raise their hand to answer a math question if boys were in the room, even when they knew the answer.

Since we started doing STEM programming, we’ve seen success in our Girl Scouts in a number of ways. One of the most startling is when a girl admits she thought boys were just better at STEM-related activities until she was engaged in them herself. If you want to read more about that and other revelations, check out the full report.

Basically, at some point it became assumed that STEM wasn’t for girls. We’re trying to change that perception.

It goes beyond the STEM pipeline

While we strive for equality in the workforce, both in job selection and salary, it isn’t our sole reason for encouraging STEM in our girls. Most people remember that Girl Scouts is about building girls of courage, confidence, and character, but they may not know the crucial second half: who make the world a better place.

We know there are things in this world that can be improved. Through our journeys and badges, we help girls learn about taking care of the planet and conservation. We encourage them to be away of their impact and what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Simply put, we were a girl-led green movement before it became popular.

We know it’s not for every girl

We’re continuing to add STEM badges in areas like cybersecurity, but it doesn’t mean we think every girl needs to become an engineer or scientist. We just believe every girl has the right to choose exactly what she wants to do, and we want to increase her chances of success by exposing her to different fields.

Maybe your Girl Scout wants to be a park ranger. Or a stay at home mom. Or an accountant. Or a veterinarian. Or maybe even a princess. We’re here to support her no matter what, so your girl can have courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place in her own chosen way.

Our STEM focus extends to our camps

Hosting STEM programs at camp this summer is like the marrying of two of the initiatives we’re most excited about. Girl Scouting has always been about enabling girls to do more and push themselves and their knowledge further. Because of this, our programs always take a progressive approach to dealing with problems faced by women every day.

This is one reason camp has been a part of Girl Scouts since the beginning. We believe in helping girls become leaders in the great outdoors by showing them important skills. Plus most of us can agree that some of the best memories are created at camp!

Our STEM focus is to battle the overwhelming majority of men who work in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. A major goal of Girl Scouts is to funnel more women in the STEM pipeline and close the gender gap currently found there. By exposing girls to STEM activities at younger age, they feel more comfortable with their place in that world.

With STEM-specific camps, we combine the outdoor fun with the educational aspects associated with these programs. With five programs targeted at younger girls, we want them to get excited about STEM and their potential future in the field!

Camp Piperwood

  • Citizen Scientist to the Rescue (Grades K-8)
  • Science Wonders (Grades K-8)

Camp Seven Hills

  • Silly Scientists (Grades 1-3)
  • Zoologist (Grades 1-3)
  • GIRLbots (Grades 4-6)

 

If you haven’t registered for camp yet, now is the time!

Why STEM, Why Not STEM?

Lately I’ve noticed quite a few articles on women breaking barriers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

I think the progress being made in this direction is wonderful.  There are numerous benefits to having women in STEM careers. They are able to provide greater financial support to their families because traditionally STEM careers pay above the average pay scale. This shift in careers debunks the stereotype that boys are stronger in math and science.  It also speaks volumes to our young girls because it expands the number of career options available to them.

In fact, many companies are lending their financial support to organizations that are exposing young girls to opportunities in STEM.

I recently read an article, Women in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) on iseekcareer.com that said approximately 17 percent of women are chemical engineers and 22 percent function as environmental scientists.  The article listed the top three reasons why there is a gender gap in these careers is because there are no female mentors, there is a lack of acceptance from coworkers and there are gender differences in the workplace.

According to the National Science Foundation, in 2009, 22.6 percent of master’s degrees in engineering went to women. The article said it was the lowest percent given in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The US Department of Commerce found that one in seven engineers is female. These numbers show that men dominate women in STEM careers, but why.

I think men disproportionally outweigh women in STEM careers because there was a time when boys were encouraged to consider careers in math and science and girls were encouraged to go into professions that relied heavily on service occupation skills.

My thoughts were confirmed when I read a Forbes article, STEM Fields and the Gender Gap: Where Are the Women?The article said, “The problem starts as early as grade school.”  That’s when I had my “aha” moment. Working for an organization that builds leadership skills in girls, are we the solution?  Can we be the catalyst for change in this area?

Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) released a study called, Generation STEM, What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The study was conducted with girls in focus groups and in a national sampling.   The study found that problem-solving, asking questions and figuring out how things worked made girls interested in STEM. Another finding discovered that girls interested in STEM are overachievers, doing well in school, and have support systems versus girls who are not interested in STEM.  One of the final findings revealed that although a girl has an interest in STEM activities it doesn’t always translate into an interest in pursuing a STEM career. We still have work to do.

So, how do we encourage girls to consider career opportunities outside of Art/Design, Social Sciences and Entertainment (ranked the highest by girls in the GSRI study)?

The African proverb says it takes a whole village to raise a child. Anyone who has influence in the life of a girl can make a difference.  Parents, educators, school counselors and non-profit organizations such as Girl Scouts, can dispel myths and increase awareness of what a career in STEM looks like.  This can be accomplished with programs like “bring your child to work” day, having guest speakers who are currently working in a STEM career, and creating programs and activities that are STEM related are steps in the right direction.