US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka talked with a group of girls at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington last week, telling them it was important to get a strong education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“We helped them think about possibility and trying things and persevering through things that don’t work so well,” Ms DeVos said of the girls in attendance. “We all know that girls get subtle or not-so-subtle messages early on in their school years that they might not be so good at math or not so good at science, when in fact they really are.”
The message has been out that the STEM disciplines lack involvement from girls, but some educators have questioned whether it’s a worthwhile pursuit to push them into those careers.
“When you think about the future of the workforce, it’s increasingly moving in the direction of STEM-related occupations,” Ms Trump added.
“There are so many opportunities for them in the future if they pursue that avenue or those fields of study,” the secretary concluded.
A solution in search of a problem?
But while educators like Ms DeVos talk a lot about girls being turned away or brainwashed away from careers in the STEM disciplines, based on societal messages that the jobs aren’t “feminine” or something, the science paints a different picture:
According to National Science Foundation statistics, there’s no gender difference regarding undergraduate degrees earned in the biosciences, the social sciences, or mathematics, and not much of a difference in the physical sciences. Of the top undergraduate STEM programs in the country, most have male-to-female student ratios close to 1:1.
Besides, many girls simply want non-STEM careers, and those that want to pursue a STEM-related career have every opportunity to do so, without hearing many disparaging remarks—at least nowadays—from “society” or from friends, family, or the media.
“As frustrating as it is to be told my career would be worth more if it involved technology, my beef is not with STEM itself,” wrote Sarah Butler in U.S. Catholic. “I understand the need for such education, and girls who have genuine or developing interests in these fields should absolutely cultivate their skills. But pushing girls into STEM teaches them that men set the bar—and runs counter to what all-girls schools do best.”
Research that shows very little gender gap in many STEM-related fields tells me that either (a) the push to get girls into STEM-related fields and erase societal stereotypes that pushed them away from those fields has worked, or (b) we need more STEM-related career-seekers in general, both boys and girls, and the push is designed to increase the number of college students in the STEM disciplines.