Gender and STEM: Breaking Barriers for Utah Girls

In part one of this two-part blog series, we looked at some basic differences between boys and girls in terms of learning, particularly within the realm of STEM subjects, plus how boys can be engaged within these topics. This is a hugely important area for many parents and educators alike — but the flip side is equally as vital as well.

At Beehive Science & Technology Academy, we happily provide the very best STEM curriculum in the state of Utah, offering these quality programs to both young boys and girls alike — and with equal opportunity. Unfortunately, there are certain stereotypes and cultural “norms” that may limit girls’ interest in STEM, and it’s the job of both educators and parents to push back against these trends. For today’s part two of our series, we’ll take a look at three common barriers facing young girls in the STEM world, plus how we and others in this field look to fight against these.

gender STEM barriers girls

Math Identity Barrier

For some girls in STEM, a major barrier is found within some people’s formative ideas about who a mathematician, scientist or other professional who utilizes math regularly is. Simply put, many people — including many young girls — have been conditioned to believe that these roles are only for men, or that women are somehow “bad” at math.

This is not only untrue, but it’s also a harmful way of thinking that limits the potential of both boys and girls. We must work to shatter these gender-based math identities and help young girls see themselves as capable of being anything they want in life, including a mathematician or scientist.

Both teachers and curriculum can play a role in this, and it’s important that we take every opportunity to show girls that math is for everyone. This includes highlighting female mathematicians and scientists in our lessons, and helping students understand that these professionals come from all walks of life.

Stereotype Threat

Another barrier girls face in STEM is the fear of being seen as incompetent or not good enough. This phenomenon, known as stereotype threat, can be incredibly damaging and often results in girls underperforming in these subjects.

This is because girls — more so than boys — are often acutely aware of the gender stereotypes that surround them. In a situation where they’re worried about confirming these negative expectations, many girls will simply opt out of participating in STEM subjects altogether.

Educators can help to combat this by creating a supportive and positive environment in the classroom. This means praising girls for their accomplishments and offering encouragement when they struggle, as opposed to criticism. It’s also important to highlight successful female professionals in STEM fields, as this can provide girls with tangible examples of what’s possible.

Format and Context Barriers

Finally, it’s important that format be considered when it comes to engaging girls in STEM. Often, the way these subjects are traditionally taught can be unappealing or simply too difficult for young girls to follow.

In addition, many girls feel uncomfortable or out of place in a traditional science or math classroom setting. This can be due to a lack of female role models, or simply an environment that’s not conducive to their interests or learning style.

It’s crucial that educators take these factors into account when designing STEM lessons and programs. This means using creative and engaging formats, as well as making sure the classroom setting is welcoming for all students. Girls should feel comfortable asking questions and participating in class discussions, without fear of judgement or ridicule.

At Beehive Science & Technology Academy, these are regular efforts we make for inclusion and diversity. We believe that no student should feel left out or unwelcome in the STEM classroom, and our goal is to provide an inclusive environment where all students can learn and grow.

For more on this or any of our STEM programs in Utah, speak to our staff today.

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