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Encouraging female students to take STEM subjects at A level
SRVerwey
3 Posts
Hi!
I’m Steph and I’m a Sixth Form student who plans to pursue a career in engineering.
 
As the only (out of about 40 students total) female physics or further maths student in my Sixth Form, I am keen to encourage more GCSE students to take science subjects at A level. Speaking to some of them, a lot of them do not believe they are intelligent enough, even the top students in the class.
I am currently volunteering to help out with science lessons once a week but want to do more.

Does anyone have any ideas about how to encourage more students (particularly female students) to take science subjects at A level?
Thanks for any suggestions!
25 Replies
Why don't you contact your local STEM Ambassador Hub and see if they can give you some suggestions. 
They might be able to send some Ambassadors along to talk to the girls.
SRVerwey
3 Posts
Thanks for the response! I’ll see if I can do that.
Arran Cameron
415 Posts
There are times when I wonder whether concerns about the lack of female students taking STEM subjects, as well as initiatives to encourage more to take them, verge on so called positive discrimination or even political correctness.

At my college there were considerable disparities between the types of students taking different A Level subjects. Electronics was extremely male dominated, computing considerably so. At the same time the number of south Asian students studying a European foreign language was next to nothing and only a small handful studied history with most of them proposing to take a degree in law. South Asian students possibly outnumbered white British students in chemistry as many of them proposed to take a degree in medicine or pharmacy whereas English literature, and psychology were almost completely white British and heavily female dominated.

There probably are good reasons deep down why students of different backgrounds or genders are attracted to or repulsed by particular A Level subjects. Unlike at GCSE level I'm not certain whether changing the course curriculum or style of assessment will have much effect at attracting students who previously wouldn't have considered them.    
Arran Cameron
415 Posts
It has to be taken into account that most people pick A Level subjects either because they have a specific use for them or else because they don't have an idea what they want to do in life and just happen to enjoy them or are good at them.

I'm inclined to say that a higher proportion of students who take (two or more?) STEM subjects are taking them for the purpose of future employment than students who take arts, humanities, and soft subjects.

Perhaps large numbers of female students cannot find any good uses for STEM subjects in relation to their future career and life. My mother has 3 science O Levels but she did not study the same subjects at A Level. She did however take computing at A Level despite not having studied the subject at O Level. It was her third subject where mathematics and history were also considered.
Andy Millar
1799 Posts

Arran Cameron:
There are times when I wonder whether concerns about the lack of female students taking STEM subjects, as well as initiatives to encourage more to take them, verge on so called positive discrimination or even political correctness.

Yup, they do. When a society has had a few thousand years of political incorrectness it's going to take a bit of effort to correct it. It's a PID control system, to correct an error it can require increased drive to overcome the inertia in the system. The clever bit is calibrating the system so that the effort reduces as the system approaches the set value to prevent overshoot.

Figures from 2016 are here https://www.jcq.org.uk/Download/examination-results/a-levels/2016/entry-trends-gender-and-regional-charts-gce-2016 A pretty appalling waste of potential talent in the physics and computing figures - and indeed in the arts, sociology, psychology and communication studies figures. Attitudes and expectations are changing, but still very slowly. So let's not be ashamed of trying to knock this bonkers idea out of court that "girls can't do tech" or (maybe even insidious) "girls don't want to do tech". Make people unwelcome and they'll feel unwelcome, and when that bias exists throughout society it takes considerable extra effort to make the affected group feel welcome instead. 

Good thing is that I've noticed that in the actual world of professional engineering there is a huge and healthy generational shift in attitude. So I'd always recommend that girls take up actual placement in engineering companies rather than taking any notice of the attitudes on engineering forums! 

Thanks,

Andy
Hi Steph,
- I see you posted this some time ago but, in case this is of help, here is my sugggestion
- Before the Corona Virus epidemic started, I used to go to schools quite a lot doing presentations and other activities. I would recommend encouraging the young people to watch Abbie Huttie's videos. You can find many of them with a simple Google search using  'Abbie Huttie IET'. You could include the videos as part of a presentation as the youngsters like videos as it adds variety to the talk. Abbie Huttie has been working on the latest Mars rover, which is interesting in itself. There are many other practical IET videos including some on apprenticeships which also include girls, which might be of interest.
- I hope this is of some help.
Regards,
Rob H.
Rob Eagle
102 Posts
There's nothing "politically incorrect" about the course of human development taking a natural course rather than a course distorted by well meaning people with some virtuous political agenda..
Unfortunately for these people the reality is that girls and boys are different, have different inherent instincts and thus interests.
By all means have the door open for anyone who wants to join a male dominated profession (which it is now), and vice-versa, but please stop the social engineering.
If we need more talent in engineering maybe we should work to make it more lucrative.
Andy Millar
1799 Posts
I have to completely disagree with the above post. The differences within the sexes are far higher than the differences between the sexes - there are males who are and aren't interested in technology, and females who are and aren't interested in technology. My daughter is far more technically competent and interested than my son!

We have spent the last hundred years socially engineering boys to play with meccano (whether they want to or not) and girls to play with dolls (whether they want to or not). It's silly, wasteful, and time for it to stop.
We have to beware the PC attitude that everyone is equal and thus everyone can or should do, or be able to or be encouraged to do, everything.

It's a balance between nature and nurture. Men are from Mars and Ladies are from Venus sums up the fact that males and females are genetically different physically as well as the way they are mentally and emotionally wired. There are many exceptions to this generality and we should encourage females into male dominated careers if they have the skills and aptitude for those subjects.

However, having 'positive discrimination quotas' to get females into STEM careers is wrong on many levels, there will be a high failure or dissatisfaction rate that will be a negative incentive and discouragement for those thinking of following. However, everyone should have the opportunity to do their best in whatever walk of life or sector they have the ability to maximise their potential in, and this may change through life.

To get anyone interested in any subject or career has to answer two simple questions - what is in it for me, and, what is so interesting in this subject to get me involved and enthused?

To make STEM attractive to females they have to feel welcome in the subject, see the relevance and a future in linked sectors, feel they will not be discriminated against in male-dominated sectors, see a fulfilling career that balances work and family commitments through life, and have some strong and credible role models to look to as guides and mentors in various STEM sectors.

Who are the STEM-qualified female role models in STEM-dominated sectors that would attract females into the A level STEM subjects needed for various sectors, and how do they engage with the education system from primary school through to university and beyond to a professional career and qualification in a STEM career?

How do we find synergies between the female-attracting careers such as medicine, nursing, care and male-attracting STEM subjects such as construction, AI, tele-medicine, robotics, space, aviation, etc, to get cross fertilisation of skills, experience, ideas and collaborative sector working during careers?

Leverage the best of both sexes to achieve a bigger sum output, so that 1 + 1 = 3
 
Dear Maurice Dixon,
Only you know nowadays women are equal to men in their income. So I really don't understand you
SRVerwey
3 Posts

Hi everyone,
What I meant by my question was how can I help make it more welcoming to female students, so they do not discount physics as an option only because it is male dominated.

I have come to realise that it is exactly these kinds of attitudes (that STEM subjects are male dominated because they are only for men) that make STEM subjects unappealing to girls and women. Of course many girls and women choose not to pursue STEM careers because they do not want to, which is completely valid and these are not the people who I am trying to encourage. 

I am trying to encourage the girls who are considering STEM subjects but hear people like you telling them that they can pursue STEM careers if they really want to but that they will fail because they are not men, because that is even off-putting to me even though I have never wanted to pursue a career in the arts!

Thank you very much to the people who have replied with suggestions or who have helped to fight against the misconceptions surrounding gender.

Benyamin Davodian,

The pay gap and lack of enduring careers in the UK is widening for women in STEM career sectors.

‘12 per cent of engineers in the UK are women and they earn around 11 per cent less than their male counterparts, on average.’

’57 per cent of female engineers drop off the register of professional engineers by the age of 35, compared to just 17 per cent of their male counterparts.’

https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/blog/2020/02/gender-pay-gap-report-reveals-women-underrepresented-at-high-level-engineering-jobs-in-the-uk
Hi,

Find the female STEM ambassadors and role models in your country or your sector, and get them to provide presentations, blogs and videos, and perhaps offer mentorships to encourage females to take the STEM A levels and show the link between STEM A levels and the careers possible, with or without going through university.

I have found with experience that males telling females what is good for them never goes well. Get females to tell and encourage females what is exciting about STEM subjects and careers will work far better.
Rob Eagle
102 Posts
Andy "The differences within the sexes are far higher than the differences between the sexes", where on earth did you get that idea from?
As in the animal kingdom there are clear differences between the sexes both physically and in behaviour, the difference is is that there are no PC animals trying to engineer it to be any other way!

 
John Beirne
30 Posts

Hi Steph,

As well as an aviation engineer, I am also a STEM Ambassador.  Have you heard of WISE?  They are a fantastic organisation with an aim of:

Enabling and energising people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Working with you we can boost the talent pool from classroom to boardroom and drive economic growth.

To meet the WISE commitment to engage more girls to consider studies and careers in STEM and reach 200,000 girls in the next 4 years; WISE has created an interactive resource to help girls find rewarding careers in STEM; where girls will be happy and successful.  To find out more, get in touch!

If you are interested in Science, you could consider contacting BASF in Mansfield.  They have a fantastic set-up to promote science and maybe able to assist.  It maybe prudent to chat with the WISE Team and see if they can help you with contacts and visiting the factory and their science lab.

Kind Regards,

John

 

Evanna Gale
71 Posts
Hi all 

May I please ask you to be mindful that your responses are helpful to the original poster and that they stay on topic and comply with our community etiquette and terms and conditions of use. Another community user has felt it necessary to start a discussion about this topic in the general chat category.

SRVerwey‍   I hope your experience in this discussion doesn't discourage you from visiting the IET community in future. You may be interested in joining our Women's Network; and I agree with Sue Twelves that the STEM Ambassdor hub is a great place to look for resources and people who can share their experiences in STEM careers with your fellow students. 
I can definitely second the recommendation to check out WISE, and the Women's Engineering Society also does great work. We like them so much that we share our Stevenage office with them😊
Rob Eagle
102 Posts
Sorry!
Andy Millar
1799 Posts
SRVerwey:

Hi everyone,
What I meant by my question was how can I help make it more welcoming to female students, so they do not discount physics as an option only because it is male dominated.

I have come to realise that it is exactly these kinds of attitudes (that STEM subjects are male dominated because they are only for men) that make STEM subjects unappealing to girls and women. Of course many girls and women choose not to pursue STEM careers because they do not want to, which is completely valid and these are not the people who I am trying to encourage. 

I am trying to encourage the girls who are considering STEM subjects but hear people like you telling them that they can pursue STEM careers if they really want to but that they will fail because they are not men, because that is even off-putting to me even though I have never wanted to pursue a career in the arts!

Thank you very much to the people who have replied with suggestions or who have helped to fight against the misconceptions surrounding gender.

Hi,

Really good question again. I think the critical point is to make sure that any activities take it for granted that of course anyone who is interested in physics (engineering, technology, chemistry, whatever...) is going to be able to do it. The good news is that, in my experience, the age group (say) 15 to 30 are really good at this.

(By the way, a bit off topic, but the age group 5 to 11 are BRILLIANT at it. It was huge fun when I used to run primary STEM activities - some kids were into it, some weren't, but what divided them wasn't sex, gender, race, IQ or anything else easily spottable. It just doesn't occur to most of them that they can't do things. Then they go to secondary school and the conditioning really starts...)

So the key really seems to be having enthusiastic people around - of either sex - who are prepared to take anyone who shows an interest and encourage them. There's an excellent BBC Radio programme, "The Life Scientific", that interviews successful scientists from all sorts of fields, many of whom came from very unlikely backgrounds. The common theme throughout tends to be that they had one teacher, lecturer, or employer who believed in them and encouraged them.

I'd have thought an excellent thing to do is to look out for inspiring webcasts / vlogs aimed at your age group with the attitude "you could do this too" - maybe someone here could recommend some? And after lockdown go to IET events and if there's an inspiring speaker go up to them and invite them to your school (or by then university / college), asking them specifically to gear their talk to "you can do this".

I'm going to talk to my team about this as well to try and get some more ideas - we're a 50:50 male / female team working at a rather serious level, two of them (Carolyn and Daniela) featured here: https://www.railengineer.co.uk/2018/12/11/175-years-of-progress/


I was talking to my youngest sister (who's still rather older than me) about this subject recently, and how it was that my three sisters who were born during the 1940s and 1950s came to be doing a rather extraordinary range of jobs through their careers, very successfully. Our Father, who was born in 1913, was a Chartered Engineer, and the way my sister put it was "it just never occurred to Dad that we wouldn't be interested in things or that we couldn't do things, and so it didn't occur to us."

My own daughter is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zv2skmn She's currently on her way home from spending several weeks in the Antarctic, when she gets back she'll be analysing her samples using computer algorithms she's written. This is an interesting page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Antarctica - as Jazzy says, until 1987 she wouldn't have been allowed to do it. Things are changing, but it is an interesting case study to see the attitudes that you do need to watch out for, as that article says:

A letter from BAS personnel sent to a woman who applied in the 1960s read, "Women wouldn't like it in Antarctica as there are no shops and no hairdresser."

She seemed to survive that pretty well 😊 (P.S.  In her spare time she fixes her (male) musician friends' instruments and teaches them the difference between Phillips and Pozidrive screwdrivers! Anyone who thinks males naturally understand and appreciate technology should try spending time with musicians - as I have over very many years... Horses for courses, I'm not an excellent musician but pretty good at the technology side. And that's fine.)

Bottom line to pass on: never let anyone tell you that engineering, physics, tech, or indeed arts, humanities, or social scientists are not for you because you're "an xxx, and xxx's can't do that".

Good luck, keep at it,

Andy

Andy Millar
1799 Posts
Rob Eagle:
Andy "The differences within the sexes are far higher than the differences between the sexes", where on earth did you get that idea from?
As in the animal kingdom there are clear differences between the sexes both physically and in behaviour, the difference is is that there are no PC animals trying to engineer it to be any other way!

 

For anyone interested here's a really useful link that gives references to some of the key works in psychological research in this area, including (particularly important) a brief discussion on Simon Baron-Cohen's work.
https://www.vox.com/2017/8/11/16127992/google-engineer-memo-research-science-women-biology-tech-james-damore
 

Hi Steph
My experience has been that many people of school age respond well to practical experience to show that students can do more than they think they can.
The suggestion to engage with the local STEM hub is excellent. This is where you can start:
https://www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors/local-stem-ambassador-hubs
Depending on the type of engineering, activities can be found. For the computer/electronics/... community it is possible to buy for a relatively modest amount easy to use programming boards such as Raspberry Pi or Arduino. They can quickly be made to do something useful (not just turning lights on and off).

The IET also has excellent resources for secondary schools. https://education.theiet.org/secondary/
These are not just for teachers to use. Pupils can also use some of them independently.

Certainly some kind of engineering club helps. Your local STEM team will help to think about that.
Finally, think about hobbies, what the interests are. If there are musicians in your group, you can but musical instrument kits, which may or may not be thought of as engineering, but then modifying, improving and adapting stretches the engineering mind.

Engineers are problem solvers, so finding a problem to solve is more inspiring that working in the abstract.

I hope some of this helps

Peter M
By the way, Steph
Thank you for thinking more widely than yourself.
The mindset that you have that sees a problem and seeks to fix it is exactly the attitude that is needed today.

I wish you good luck in your studies at school and in your efforts to promote engineering to those around you

Peter M
Hi Steph,

I went to an all girls school 20 years ago, and I know what you mean! There were two classes of 15 for Biology and Chemistry each, but only 1 class of 9 for Physics. There were 2 for further maths and about 15 for maths.
What helped me engage with STEM subjects were:
- Careers advice in Year 9 - I knew I was going to be techy in one way or another from a questionnaire.
- Decent school trips - when I was small, we went to a very excellent Science Museum (MOSI).
- An appreciation of what someone can do with Maths and Physics - Only two people chose Physics purely for interest. The rest wanted to be doctors or engineers. (Interestingly, not astronauts...) If people (young and old) knew what Maths and Physics allowed you to do, then it would help relate the subject to the outside world.
- Having science books in the library. Prof. Brian Cox is an example - he explains things nicely and writes a decent book. There must be others. I am currently reading 'Built' by Roma Agrawal. It reads like an autobiography rather than a textbook.
- Having teachers who know what they are talking about! Ok you can't fix that, but it does help if the teacher cares about the subject. Sometimes, they may point you to another source for further learning.
- University taster days - sometimes they are extended to year 11s. These give a day in the life of a STEM University student. I think Bristol Uni does these for year 12s...
- School clubs. Could a lego class be started? Or a Raspberry Pi group? I remember there being science clubs, with BAYS or CREST. Not sure if they are still around. There are so many tutorials online nowadays, like Scratch for computer programming. It could be self-run, if teachers aren't feeling confident.
- Work experience - I don't know if it is a thing to have school-organised work experience any more. If there is, then you could suggest the option.
- WISE, EDT Headstart and such are helpful. The IET have a resources page for teachers for different key stages.
- Career day chats. I actually did a career day talk to some GCSE students and they loved it. I think I may have persuaded some to think about Maths. At least, they didn't fall asleep! Ask a local company to send someone. (National Grid for example - shameless plug!). Usually, you will get a response.

Yes, several of these ideas involve getting teacher help. Don't let that put you off, though. If you can persuade one teacher to help you implement only one of these, not only will it benefit the younger students, but it will look amazing on your CV or university personal statement. 

Good luck with your studies and your ambitions!
DrMoss
3 Posts
You are making an accusation of social engineering...but it is clearly already socially engineered. That’s why we are in this unbalanced situation.
DrMoss
3 Posts
I am a STEM ambassador. I’m uncomfortable
about encouraging girls into STEM careers without mentioning the negatives. I believe it is correct to give a fair representation. 
An informed choice is better.
Rob Eagle
102 Posts
I think if you need that much help to “engage in STEM subjects” then maybe it isn’t for you.  In my book you’re either interested or you’re not.  Social engineering is divisive and discriminatory.

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