By: Olusola Amusan, Citizenship Manager, Microsoft Nigeria
Microsoft recently partnered with the Foundation for Corporate Social Responsibility and Children’s Rights (CSR Children) to support their efforts to encourage the participation of girls in science and technology education. This got me thinking about the broader ramifications of science education for girls.
It’s been a long-standing trend that men far outnumber women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This stems (excuse the pun) from elementary school level all the way through school and college, where girls and young women are encouraged to go into the humanities, while boys and young men are encouraged to pursue engineering and mathematics. And this stigma is a global issue.
So, why is it so important to encourage young women to go into STEM fields? I’ve narrowed it down to three key reasons:
1.The gender ratio in science is unbalanced
In an ideal world, women should hold 50% of STEM jobs given that they make up just over 50% of the global population. Unfortunately, the reality is that the science industry is skewed towards men, while women still largely hold traditional roles like teaching, nursing, clerical and service jobs.
Through better education, we can begin to see a more equal statistic become a reality, which will also widen the pool of potential scientists.
2.The importance of the missing “female voice” in science
Very importantly, as consumers of science and technology, the ‘female voice’ is critical in ensuring that insights and perspectives that inform developments are balanced, and inclusive of the female experience. And, many innovations are specifically targeted at women (think of the huge industry that surrounds pregnancy, child birth, child care) – so their voice is even more vital in these instances.
One school of thought explaining the lack of women in STEM fields is just that – the lack of women in these fields. What this means is without enough strong females acting as a role model and encouraging other young women to pursue their STEM interests, we’re not likely to see an increased female presence in these fields. What I think is key here is that we need to highlight the successes of women in STEM, creating role models for young girls. This is why initiatives like CSR Children are so important.
3.More jobs in STEM than any other industry
In a society where the average women still earns less than the average man, getting more women into STEM could reduce the gender wage gap. This is because not only are there more jobs in STEM than in any other industry, but most of these are high-paying, too. Achieving this pay equality is essential because it more adequately fuels the economy and has the potential to lead to more individual, family, community and national prosperity.
We need to do much more to redirect women to STEM careers. I believe this is the responsibility of everyone from parents and peers, to educators, counsellors and the private sector. We need to start at the very beginning, encouraging even pre-school girls to explore their interests in STEM subjects. This increases the likelihood that by the time they reach school and university, they have a clear understanding of these subjects and their aptitude to become the next ground-breaking engineer or scientist.