A Microsoft study into STEM has revealed that businesses and schools only have a small 5-year window in which to foster a love for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Not only is that small window a huge challenge, but those ideally placed to foster that passion in STEM – role models – are lacking in numbers.
The Microsoft study, which polled 1,000 UK girls and women aged between 11 to 30, found that most girls in the UK become attracted to STEM subjects before age 11. This interest, however, drastically declines and drops off sharply between the ages of 16 and 17.
This highlights the importance of engaging girls in STEM subjects whilst in primary school, an issue raised recently by the Stemettes who gave their support to Microsoft’s report. The Stemettes, the social enterprise who are on a mission to get girls into STEM, recently hosted an ‘Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat’ event to emphasise that parents, teachers and organisations should kick start girls’ interest in STEM at a young age.
Read more: Salesforce adopts ‘Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat’ mantra as girls shy away from ‘male’ tech careers
The Microsoft study also found that young girls were in dire need of people to look up to – the very people who could kick start that interest in STEM. Although 53 percent of girls in the UK believe there are encouraging role models, but 62 percent said they would like to see more encouragement coming from female professionals working as coders, developers and lab scientists.
Microsoft also found that girls’ attitudes towards STEM differ depending on where they live in the world. Girls in Russia start to become interested at the age of 10, a year earlier than girls in the UK. Further comparisons between the two countries revealed that 43 percent of girls in the UK would consider a career in STEM, compared to 54 percent in Ireland and 50 percent in Russia.
Disappointingly, gender stereotypes were still found to be a major factor in girls turning away from STEM – especially in the UK. 23 percent of girls in the UK feel STEM subjects are geared towards boys, whereas girls in Russia and Finland feel STEM subjects are perceived to be gender-neutral.
Cindy Rose, Chief executive officer UK, Microsoft said: “The research reveals that we can’t afford to wait until girls are thinking about university courses to foster their interest in STEM.
“To stop the drop-off in interest in STEM at 16, we’re working with governments, teachers and non-profits to modernise the curriculum and provide better access to mentors.”
Microsoft recently announced a national skills programme set up to boost digital skills, and have also become involved in a new platform called Modern Muse to give girls online access to female professionals across industries such as technology.
The platform is designed to help girls make informed subject choices at school, also cutting off the decline in interest at 16 as they engage with Muses.