Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills are increasingly valued in everyday life and the world of work. According to UNESCO, women currently represent only 35% of students in careers in these areas and 28% of researchers in the world.
Andrea Vega studied computer systems engineering at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) and currently works as a Java backend developer. She says that she has been very good at math since she was a child, and she liked to watch chemistry and physics experiments. Her interest in computers started in high school when she started learning programming.
Josefina Espinosa always knew that science was her thing. With an engineer father and brother, and a chemist sister, she was always attracted to these subjects and decided to become a pharmaco-biological chemist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
However, many women rule out going into research because they are made to feel that these careers are not for them. Vega recounts that since high school, she had to face classes where 90% of the population were men, and many teachers underestimated women’s abilities.
STEM Women: Girls like science
With these suggestions, help introduce your daughters to science and mathematics:
- Teach them not to believe gender stereotypes. When separating games by gender, the activities more related to science are often seen as for boys, when in fact, girls can also participate. “Often, even girls have this idea that something is not for them because they say that’s for boys”, says Andrea Vega.
- Open the conversation around the scientists of yesterday and today. Many women have had impressive achievements in science. For example, Marie Curie was the first person to receive the Nobel Prize in two categories (physics and chemistry) for her studies and discoveries on radioactivity and other topics. For her part, Ada Lovelace was an exceptional mathematician, today recognized as the first programmer in history. From Babbage’s mechanical calculator, she developed what is considered the first computer program. Bring your kids closer to these stories with books like Cuentos de buenas noches para niñas rebeldes (Goodnight stories for wild girls).
- Start bringing them closer from an early age. Many logic games require only a pencil and paper; find some on the Peanuts site. NASA also made guides for your children to learn more about space exploration with Snoopy. There are also sites for children to learn programming, such as Scratch.
- Feed their curiosity. Currently, there are workshops for girls and boys on programming, robotics, and more. “You don’t have to force them to like something, but when they are interested, they approach it on their own if they have the means to explore”, explains Andrea, who teaches basic programming courses for women. On Epic Queen’s YouTube channel, there are free tutorials on making robots at home, creating a site with HTML code, or extracting the genetic material from fruit.
- Promote STEM subjects as fun. “It is important to remove the stigma that mathematics is difficult (it can be as difficult or easy as Language) and science too”, highlights Andrea, an IPN graduate. “For me, chemistry is enjoyable; it is something that I have always tried to pass on to my children”, says Josefina Espinosa, who has two adult children, one of them is an engineer. “Children have a great capacity for wonder, and our daily lives are full of chemical reactions: cooking, doing laundry, plants being able to grow”, she explains.
- Bolster her confidence. “In secondary school, many women drop their interest in the areas of science, convinced that they are not good”, Andrea comments. This is why it is important to build confidence in girls in their abilities to solve problems and develop logical and mathematical thinking. “My dad always told us that we could study anything we liked if we set our minds to it”, says Josefina.
Closing the gender gap in STEM will ensure that girls and boys have the same opportunities to contribute to developing new ideas and discoveries, creating a better world for all people.
Translated by: Ligia Mabel Oliver Manrique de Lara