Keeping Girls in STEM: Nurture, Not Nature is the Problem

Changing how girls are nurtured in STEM could be one of the biggest barriers to growing female representation in STEM. It’s easy to assume that a lack of participation is linked to a lack of economic opportunity, but surprisingly girls from high-income families are more likely to be taught that boys are more talented in math and science. Moreover, in their 2018 study “Gender Achievement Gaps in U.S. School Districts,” the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis reveals that minority girls in poorer school districts tend to perform higher in math assessments than girls from wealthier neighborhoods. So, if some parents are holding back their children from reaching their full potential, teachers and other female STEM role models must become better advocates for girls in STEM.

Ways to Bring Girls Into STEM

  1. Encourage professional outreach in schools

Schools should connect women in science to girls in the classroom to show girls what they can be.

2. Provide projects parents can do with their girls

Not all parents are STEM majors or even feel confident about math, but educators can provide activities that parents can do with their girls to keep their excitement in the sciences alive.

3. Understand and teach parents about implicit biases

Teachers and parents who adhere to gender stereotypes have an inordinate impact on whether girls stick with STEM. THE AAUW, an organization that advocates for women in STEM, reveals that besides underestimating girls’ math abilities, teachers often grade girls harder than boys, making it harder for girls to feel successful in STEM and confident enough to continue pursuing math and science in high school and beyond. Understanding how their own biases hurt girls can help teachers and parents change and become better educators and champions for girls.

Once teachers and parents see and account for the impact of nurture on girls’ achievement in STEM, they can find ways to encourage girls to retain their interest in this rewarding field. Research conducted on women STEM students in higher ed has linked project-based learning to higher retention and success for women. On average, women are most engaged in STEM when connecting technical topics to solving real-world problems, so project-based learning may be one of the best tools for nurturing our girls to love STEM.


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