That’s the proportion of females in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce…TODAY.
And so, we’ve chosen to give this day, February 11, a little extra love and recognition because…really
…we can do better than 28%.
But, let’s back up the truck a little bit and dig into some details. Like: why do we want more women and girls in science? And: what is the reason almost ¾ of the positions in STEM industries occupied by men?
Lastly, we happen to know a thing or two about women in science, as Mountain Roots’ core staff is composed entirely of women! As we’re all demonstrably committed to engaging youth with the outdoor environment, including exposure to fundamental scientific concepts…
Let’s just say we think this is a day deserving of recognition.
SO. We’re including some extra tidbits for you with ways to enrich your child’s daily life with the magic of science (regardless of gender!).
Let’s talk about the why.
Yes, there’s an obvious gender gap in the STEM workforce that persists despite a major global movement to address the disparity.
But, why do we want more women and girls in science?
I’ll answer this by noting that the lack of female representation in STEM industries has absolutely nothing to do with ability or interest. By extension, this means that the education is there…the jobs are there…but there are factors inhibiting women from achieving those positions.
We need and want more women and girls in science because it represents a movement towards indiscriminate, equitable opportunity.
To see more females working in STEM-related industries would indicate a bottom-up success story in increasing the accessibility of careers for those who choose them.
Moreover, it is age-old discrimination that dissuades women from pursuing a future in STEM, reinforced by a *complex* system designed to perpetuate archaic gender roles. And there is now a ~very~ large group of women and men who are saying…that’s quite enough of THAT.
Let’s talk about the what.
As in…WHAT is the reason women and girls are less prevalent in the STEM workforce?
Previously mentioned: this is very much a global, bottom-up, cause-and-effect situation interwoven with socio-economic, cultural, and political threads that differ within countries.
BUT- well documented. Pulling from a 2010 report by the AAUW (American Association of University Women), there is an existing prejudice that works against girls from the very beginning.
There is this practice of following-suit with stereotypes: that females aren’t as good at math and science as boys or that it simply is not a viable option as a professional pursuit. This is reflected in testing, where it has been reported that girls perform better when they are told that they are equally capable to the boys.
It’s also thought that girls tend to hold themselves to a higher standard than boys in terms of scoring well in math and science because of the historic success of males on the tests. This higher standard results in a low self-assessment; girls are giving up on the field of study more readily than boys.
Generally, the world still associates math and science with masculinity. Which makes sense considering the current statistics. Yet, it actually becomes a self-perpetuating, cyclical system, wherein everyone (including females) believe in this narrative and therefore continue to operate with this as a societal norm.
And so, girls are less exposed to STEM subjects as it isn’t expected they would perform well anyways.
Breaking the cycle.
Facilitating engagement, fostering exposure, cultivating confidence, and providing resources for success. There IS a pathway, being forged by thousands of organizations, for women and girls to progress careers in STEM.
PLEASE check out this awesome networking hub that links organizations around the world to one another as a unified movement: The National Girls Collaborative Project.
It goes without saying, though I’m SAYING it…
as proud promoters of diversity, inclusivity, and equality in every facet of our organization, we heartily support this initiative.
And we especially love the fact that engagement with STEM doesn’t have to occur in a structured setting and *often* bodes well in the outdoor environment.
Science up your life!
At Mountain Roots, we have a LOT of activities up our sleeve…especially ones that are centered around scientific, nature-based, environmental concepts.
This year, the United Nations states that International Day of Women and Girls in Science will be focused on getting females more involved in sustainable and equitable development.
So we decided to go with an activity that ticks a few boxes…
✔ It follows the theme of sustainable and equitable development.
✔ You probably won’t have to off to the store (after all, you don’t need MORE things to do.) This activity can be achieved using items you *likely* already have at home!
✔ It can be done outside on a pretty day or inside on a lousy day.
✔ Your child can tackle this project alone OR you can do it with them!
✔ Mess is minimal and there isn’t a huge cleanup.
✔ It is suitable for a large age-range of kids: 5-11!
…an engineering-specific activity that gets kids thinking about the application of physics (even if they don’t know that’s what they’re thinking about) and sustainable, equitable development.
Here are some initial recommendations:
- If your child is from about 5-7 years old, consider simplifying it to a “Build-a-Bridge” activity…without suspension.
- If you want to do this outside, this activity can be easily modified to use mostly natural materials. Challenge your child to come up with a way to build this bridge using sticks, leaves, rocks, etc. such that it can actually hold weight!
Here is an explanation for what IS a suspension bridge and framing its significance for your little one:
- Suspension bridges differ from other bridges because they are platforms that are held in place by strong cables. Such a system makes them stronger and more capable of withstanding the elements.
- Together, are you able to come up with some examples of suspension bridges? You may have even crossed one before! The Golden Gate Bridge in California is one of the most famous examples in the U.S.
Here is what you’ll need:
- Cereal box
- 4 empty toilet paper tubes
- Painter’s tape
- Small rubber bands
- Hole punch
…And you can facilitate it by assisting your child through these steps:
- Cut a strip of cardboard out of a flattened cereal box to make the bridge. You can tape on extra sections if you want to make a longer bridge.
- Punch holes along the sides of the cardboard, leaving a few inches on each end without holes.
- The sections without holes will be the ramp to the ground.
- Try to make sure the holes are lined up to increase the stability of the bridge.
- Thread a rubber band through each hole and loop it back through itself to hold it in place.
- Create the bridge towers by cutting 2 half-inch slits in one end of each tube.
- The slits should be slightly off the center and across from each other.
- See blue lines in the picture for guidance.
- Tape down your towers. They will be supporting all of the weight of the bridge so it will be important for them to be as sturdy as possible.
- Make sure to have the slits lined up with the direction of the bridge.
- Cut the cables out of a length of twine. Cut them about twice as long as your bridge, then excess can be trimmed later.
- Feed each piece first through the slits in the towers and then through each of the rubber bands. Pull the twine taught until the rubber bands stretch some and the bridge feels secure.
- Tape the ends of the twine to the ground.
- Tape the ramp to the ground.
How much weight can your kid’s homemade suspension bridge hold? Try out different items (and then maybe multiple at a time!) to test its integrity.
OK, so what have we learned here?
Hopefully, your child picked up on the parts of the bridge that are more crucial than others for bearing weight. This is the application of physics and engineering!
Have your kiddo think about the purpose of bridges.
→ Why do we need them?
→ Why is it important for people to know how to build them strong?
Talk through the concept of sustainability. Engineers are learning how to make bridges that are stronger than ever, using sustainable, green materials. This means the creation of bridges that may last longer and are better for the environment.
Bridges help US get from one place to another. But how could they help wildlife? Busy roads often interrupt the natural habitat of some animals; it may even keep some of them from being able to migrate. What if we could create bridges that help wildlife safely cross a busy road?
This concept is already in existence! Construction on this 210 ft long wildlife bridge in California is projected to wrap up in 2025.
What are other ways that bridges can be thought about as sustainability and equitable development solutions?
Comment below with your insights and/or any other activity suggestions!