Best Practices for Supporting Women in STEM
Calling on all parents, educators and employers. Want girls to consider STEM? Implement these best practices in your home, classroom, campuses and institutions that will support women’s’ STEM aspirations. Page last updated Oct 8, 2016.
1. Create a Welcoming Environment: Establish Visible Female STEM Role Models
There is a powerful effect on student confidence when they see images of people who look like them being successful in a career. Make the positive associations you want of Women in STEM and place those images in visible locations to attract and retain women.
- Websites, Hallways & Classrooms: Add Posters or early pioneering STEM role models, Include an alumni tab to your webpage
- Student Reports: Report out on websites that introduce STEM careers
- Speakers: Invite female STEM speakers to your classroom – find them through Societies like the Society of Women Engineers and look for their speakers bureaus. Ask if a member can talk to your girl, or if you can bring your daughter in to meet them for a half hour-hour at their place of employment.
- Attend Society Events: Attend STEM outreach workshops offered by Societies and Corporations where STEM role models volunteer. Stay up to date on many local STEM events happening around San Diego by signing up for the San Diego Science Alliance weekly e-news.
- Enter an essay contest or competition from the television show Design Squad Nation or the high school (Engineer Your Life, Dot Diva) or middle school (Engineer Girl) websites.
2. Teach Spatial Skills: Incorporate Hands-On Activities
Set students up for STEM success by checking for their ability to visualize what they see on paper and to mentally rotate objects in 3D. Spatial visualization is an acquired skill – not an innate ability. It is generally learned through hands on play from construction toys (building blocks, legos, lincoln logs), video games like tetris, or taking art classes.
- Test all students for their fundamental spatial skills by using the ready made tests and lesson plans from Engage Engineering. Here is an additional resource for a few more ideas to incorporate into the classroom. Remember to use handheld models (vs computer models) when possible.
- For girls ages 5-8: Here are a few hands-on girl toys: GoldieBlox or Roominate.
- Engineering camps are available such as the 3-week San Diego 3rd – 10th grade SEEK (Summer Engineering Experience for Kids). For older kids, volunteer as one of the camp mentor$.
- Create your own design team and enter a competition. It can be in the form of a robotics team like the RoboChicks or a mentored program like the high school STEP-UP (Service Through Engineering Program). Venues like the MakerFaires or the PBS television show Design Squad Nation offer additional ideas for teaming up with friends to tackle exciting design challenges. Here is an educational robot kit designed to get girls into engineering
3. Build a Culture of Respect: Be Transparent in Evaluations
Cultivating a culture of respect in schools, departments, and workplaces can remove the vulnerability women face from outdated stereotypes. It can improve test scores and set more realistic standards for how women assess themselves and view the threshold for success.
- Send the explicit message that both boys and girls are equally capable in STEM
- Explicitly teach students about stereotype threat and how to recognize stereotypes
- Make performance standards and expectations clear. Tell students exactly what their test score or rating means and where they fit into the overall group assessment. “If you got above an 80 on this test, you are doing a great job in this class”. Help them understand the career relevant skills they have learned from the assignment/course and where they can grow and develop.
4. Praise Effort: Foster a Growth Mindset to develop Persistence.
Fortify under represented students and prepare them for the difficult problems they will face in STEM by fostering a growth mindset. It will develop a greater sense of free will, a willingness to embrace challenges and try new things. A growth mindset can help youth persist despite the obstacles they might run into from outdated stereotypes.
- Praise students for effort – reinforce that effort and struggles are important – 15 Best Ways to Praise. Tell them that the brain is like a muscle, it grows with exercise. Every time the brain is stretched, it forms new connections and circuitry over time to become smarter. Mistakes are necessary to grow. Being smart is a choice based on hard work. Introduce your entire school system to the growth mindset through the Brainology intervention program.
- For additional reading on how to develop a more flexible mindset about intelligence, read MindSet: The New Psychology of Success , the Effort Effect, How Not to Talk to Your Kids: Inverse Power of Praise, and Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children.
- Books to help foster persistence
5. Competence First: Then Build that Fighting Spirit
To succeed in a career, any career, one must first be seen as competent. For it is competence that will get you those choice assignments and allow you to gain the respect of your colleagues and to advance in your careers. Girls must also be prepared to defend their ideas and promote their successes and aspirations.
- Reframe girls views of leadership, address the societal norms girls face and the fighting spirit that is critical in stepping into and fully owning their own identities. These are difficult subjects, but reading “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence” can help girls develop this aspect of emotional intelligence critical in any career to be successful. Here are Five Tips to Solve the Good Girl Curse.
- Fortify girls, inform them of the societal norms and the social rejection that women may face for their success in non-traditional fields. Lean In is a book that further explains some of the societal impacts women face in today’s working world and specific tactics we can do to level the playing field. Also see See 6 below.
- Self-respect and confidence – Its a Girl Thing (California Educator, March 2016 Issue) talks about the most important lesson we can give to middle school girls that doesn’t happen in the classroom “its important to be me – without worrying that others will judge me”
6. Interrupt Bias: Raise Awareness of Your Unconscious Decisions
Gain a better understanding of the factors that influence your decisions and if and when your unconscious or implicit biases may be at work. Implicit biases can impact teaching, advising, evaluation of students, and the messages we send to girls and boys about their suitability in STEM.
- Learn about your own implicit biases. Take the free ‘Demonstration’ bias test for “Gender-Sciences” at Implicit.Harvard.Edu to understand the strength of your unconscious associations
- Keep your biases in mind. Gain insights behind the unconscious decisions you make by reading Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking or viewing The Psychology of Blink: Understanding how our Minds work Unconsciously
- Take steps to correct for your biases. Create an environment that counters gender-science stereotypes by strengthen the associations you want to have.
- When women are ostracized for their successes, they need to know they are not alone. Awareness of the Gender Based Societal Research can counteract the effect.
- Encourage high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes when available.
7. Introduce Students to What Engineers Do: Use Everyday Examples
Marketing research has drastically improved How to Promote Engineering. Introducing a hands-on Engineering project to students always starts with the design process. Several age appropriate sites offer the “Engineering Design Process” as part of lesson plans in addition to many cool hands on activities you can introduce including:
- K-12: Teach Engineering Design Process,
- 7-9: Design Squad Nation Talking Points,
- K-6: Fetch Hands on Science Training
- K-6: Engineering is Elementary Lesson Plans
- 7-12: A few elementary College level courses from Engage Engineering include: Engineering Design, Engineering Graphics, Calculus & Differential Equations, Chemistry, Physics, and Introduction to Engineering.
- 9-14: Physics Girl
8. College Retention
College level STEM courses that use Everyday Examples in Engineering, or E3 Lesson Plans, help concepts stick and be memorable. By adding context to technical concepts, teachers increase student understanding. A few additional tips to engage students and bolster persistence:
- Test all entry level students for basic Spatial Visualization Skills and if needed, offer a one-credit-hour class to teach this skill.
- Curriculum – Emphasize the broader real-life applications during the early entry-level curriculum to help build and maintain student’s STEM interests.
- Engage Engineering also has Teacher-Student interaction tips to foster persistence
- WEPAN (Women in Engineering Proactive Network) offers Engineering Campuses best practices to benefit both faculty and students including Engineering Inclusive Teaching and Women in STEM Knowledge Center.
9. College Recruiting: Build an Inclusive View of Success
Engineering marketing research has drastically improved How to Promote Engineering. Once you have updated your engineering messaging, consider these additional recruiting tactics:
- Use updated flyers and web pages that include people. Make it representative of the population you are trying to recruit. Think what success would look like and make it visible on the walls, hallways, webpages, videos and all recruiting materials.
- Make it fun. This UC Bolder flyer quadrupled high school female attendance to their intro to engineering workshop.
- Build pathways for students who are interested in STEM, but may not necessarily have considered a STEM field. Offer introductory courses that appeal to students with different levels of preparation or background to the major.
- Recruit to re-entry women – Del Mar College created videos promoting STEM to working women encouraging them to re-enter the STEM workforce for a rewarding career option
- National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science (NIWTTS) offers college educators on-line training offering specific tactics to help improve recruitment and retention for STEM programs.
9. Retention: Create Effective Institutional Policies
Men are culturally conditioned to be assertive and confident; women to be kind, nurturing and compassionate. As a result, we welcome men’s leadership. However women who step outside of these traditional gender based roles often face pushback in non-traditional fields like STEM. These unconscious cultural effects can be countered with micro-messaging, reflection, and training. Be a workplace ally:
- ACCOMPLISHMENTS – Support female colleagues with “Micro-Affirmations”: During introductions, vouch for their credibility. Champion their work; ensure they are given credit particularly when in a team environment. During meetings, amplify and repeat their unacknowledged ideas and give them credit.
- Interrupt cultural conditioning by reflecting on negative associations highly successful women face. Challenge the “likability” penalty and ask yourself “if a man were to do the exact same thing, would you feel the same way?”
- FEEDBACK – Give women direct, actionable feedback linked to specific business outcomes. Ensure feedback is transparent and clear. Vague feedback slows women down from building skillsets and advancing within the company.
- Evaluate performance fairly. Set clear performance metrics before evaluations and explain criteria to a 3rd party. If one candidate is being rating on their “potential” to achieve business results, make sure all are being rated under the same criteria.
- Introduce 2nd Generation Bias Training to improve decision making. Several videos on unconscious bias are available (here are few more gender-research materials to understand the depth the second generation bias in how we raise our children and experience the workplace).
- Provide a welcoming environment for under represented populations. Remove the sense of isolation by forming an Employee Resource Group (affinity groups) to foster networking and interaction with senior staff and integration into the department. Student lounges can be set up that are open to all students to encourage interaction outside of class.
- Establish transparent metrics for project success, evaluation performance, pay and promotions. Ambiguous performance inadvertently favors men. Build transparency in pay. Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Make