We often see reported (and see ourselves in schools) the low levels of self-esteem amongst teen girls and then, separately, we learn of how few girls are taking STEM subjects at A-level. (For example in 2016 only 1.9% of girls choose Physics A-level, compared to 6.5% of boys). I believe there could be a link between this lack of self-belief in many teen girls and low participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). By addressing issues of confidence and resilience, we can encourage girls to consider STEM subjects in their A-level choices. In turn this could lead to STEM degree choices and their future careers.
The contrast between male and female participation in STEM subjects beyond GCSE is stark – according to WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) only 33% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs programme progress into any form of Level 3 core STEM qualification, whether that is via A-level, advanced apprenticeship or vocational qualification routes. This contrasts to 80% of boys from the GCSE cohort that progress to a Level 3 STEM qualification.
And this matters to the UK economy too. WISE estimates the STEM worker shortfall to be approximately 69,000 per year. Without significant change, this means the UK’s vital STEM industries are under threat. WISE also estimates that 50,000 talented girls are lost every year from STEM jobs. So if we can encourage girls to consider STEM for their GCSEs and afterwards, we can all contribute to addressing this shortfall.
These three ideas encourage girls to build their confidence, and consider STEM options and careers as a result:
Many young people see STEM careers as the more difficult choice. So our starting point is to encourage higher aspirations so that teens consider all careers. In the Goals and Aspirations module of the Building Resilience programme I support teen girls to mindmap their skills, interests and aptitudes, and then work together to brainstorm possible careers to match these. The key is to encourage and support them to stay open-minded and consider a wide range of options for themselves.
Encourage curiosity for role models
Teenagers gain ideas for their careers from family members first of all, as well as from popular culture. We can support them further by encouraging a curiosity around a wide range of role models and careers. During the workshops in the Building Resilience Programme I share role models from science, architecture, business, sport and literature to name a few.
By showcasing these women and how they have overcome set-backs to achieve their goals, encourages and inspires girls to see how they can overcome their own challenges, set themselves goals and create plans to achieve them. Read more about goal setting in this blog.
Encourage a growth mindset
I believe supporting a growth mindset in teenagers is an invaluable factor in encouraging them to consider studying STEM subjects, and for their career choices. By supporting them to believe that they themselves can develop their own skills, and their results are driven by their own efforts, and the strategies they take, leads them to relish challenges and be open-minded to their choices.
Unfortunately there is no magic formula for addressing the shortfall in girls taking STEM subjects, but by raising aspirations, promoting a wide range of role models and encouraging a growth mindset approach we are supporting teen girls to believe in themselves, their capabilities and the possibilities for their future career – and that that could include STEM.
If you’re looking for a programme that builds resilience and personal skills, enabling teen girls to progress both personally and academically, find out about the availability of the Building Resilience programme for your school by contacting Caroline Walker, founder of Confident Teens, on firstname.lastname@example.org