My daughter had a Kindergarten assessment a few weeks ago and when I asked her how it went, she shrugged her shoulders and said simply: “I know I’m not as smart as my older brother.” I was aghast, of course. How could she think that? What had I done to make her feel inferior? I reminded her that she was just as good as her brother, but younger. She still needed to learn the things he had already been taught.
She didn’t seem too bothered by her simple statement but I felt convicted. If as a Kindergartner she already felt second best, what would her mentality look like in the preteen, teen and college years?
I tend to believe that my story is not an uncommon one. We tell our daughters that they can be anything they want to be and there are no limitations when it comes to their future careers. In preschool our little girls tell us that they want to be doctors or astronauts and we swoon. In the early elementary grades there may be a mention of wanting to be a veterinarian during their puppy and kitty phase or an architect when they draw pictures of their favorite buildings.
Research shows us that by middle school though most young women have abandoned their science and math career aspirations and replaced them with something deemed more suitable, like teaching or writing. Girls are quick to shrug off “smart” career paths, while boys take pride in being good at STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics. So what are we doing in our homes and in our schools that feed this?
A study out of Georgetown University found that by 2018, STEM jobs will add up to 8.6 million and that these occupations are growing at a rate twice as fast as other industries. Despite this sunny STEM outlook, less than 15 percent of high school females say they want to pursue a STEM career. STEM high schools report that boy students outnumber the girl students by three to one. We also know that women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns in America. It seems that in the midst of these statistics, we have all of our answers. It’s just a matter of putting them all together, which will take a cultural and academic push towards better education geared towards girls.
In August, mayoral candidate for New York City Christine Quinn disclosed a plan that would open five all-girls middle schools with a focus on STEM education. Quinn says that middle school is the age where STEM talents in young women need to be fostered in order to put them on the right career path. I think Quinn’s idea is a good one but I also hope that more elementary and pre- schools will get on board. Middle school may be the time young women express disinterest in STEM topics, but those seeds are planted much earlier.
The key to a better workplace for women is better encouragement in STEM areas when they are still our little girls. With the right guidance, girls will be able to view themselves as equals to boys when it comes to the tough topics and their paychecks will echo that sentiment.
Image via Flickr on Creative Commons
Katie Parsons is a part-time writer for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes in business news affecting major markets in the U.S. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. She is also the administrator for a community blog for moms.