Dismantling female stereotypes in science and technology

 Actua’s National Girls Program is engaging girls to build their knowledge, skills and confidence in STEM fields. Actua

 Actua’s National Girls Program is engaging girls to build their knowledge, skills and confidence in STEM fields. Actua

The evidence is clear: companies are more successful when women are involved, and a better gender balance brings not only social but also economic benefits. Yet in certain fields, for example engineering and computer science, women continue to be vastly underrepresented.  

Jennifer Flanagan challenges the argument that girls are simply not interested in pursuing careers in such professions. “There is no lack of interest from girls in science and technology – they see these fields as amazing venues for combining the passion areas that are important to them,” says the CEO and co-founder of Actua, a national charity dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach.

Girls are eager participants in the STEM clubs, day camps, conferences, career fairs and special events with female mentors that are part of Actua’s National Girls Program, explains Ms. Flanagan. By creating safe spaces where girls can design, construct, experiment and explore, the program aims to encourage an ongoing engagement in STEM fields.

And as girls build their knowledge, skills and confidence, they help to dismantle prevailing stereotypes about women in science and engineering. It also helps to have role models, Ms. Flanagan believes. “Girls need to see more women working in STEM fields – we need to share their stories and successes,” she says. “It’s still true that if girls can’t see it, they can’t be it.”

It’s also critical to engage parents and teachers, says Ms. Flanagan. “We continue to hear from the girls who participate in our high school programs that they still get the message that they are not as good or smart or capable in science and technology as boys are,” she explains. “These messages come across loud and clear, and we need to address them.”

More and more people recognize that women’s engagement in science and technology is an important component of advancing a broader equality narrative, says Ms. Flanagan. “If women and girls are not engaged in building digital skills, for example, they are not going to be able to participate in a digitized world on equal terms.

“We also have a big workforce gap,” says Ms. Flanagan. “The federal government is currently talking about its innovation strategy, and engaging women and girls in science and technology has to be part of the plan.”

Actua, with network members who currently engage about 10,000 girls in the National Girls Program, is poised to make a major contribution, adds Ms. Flanagan, with the impact of any action plan depending on funding and support.

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