Parents, teachers and stereotypes still deny girls a rewarding future in STEM
From left: Paula Neary, client director at Accenture Ireland; Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, TD; and Caroline O’Driscoll, I Wish co-founder. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

Parents, teachers and stereotypes still deny girls a rewarding future in STEM

6 Sep 2017186 Shares

Irish girls are still missing out on exciting future career opportunities in science and tech, new Accenture and I Wish research reveals.

Teachers and parents, the very people who want the best for young girls growing up in Ireland, don’t realise it but they are having a bad influence on girls’ school subject and career choices.

New research from Accenture and I Wish exposes the reasons why Ireland continues to be under-equipped to cater for female graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). It found that parents and teachers are still pandering to gender stereotypes and are uninformed about the opportunities that a career in STEM affords.

‘In order for Ireland to continue to compete on a global stage, we need to equip young people with STEM skills, and fast’
– PAULA NEARY

In 2014, in conjunction with Siliconrepublic.com’s Women Invent campaign, Accenture published the first version of the research on attracting more young women into science and technology fields.

This latest study – which gathered feedback from 3,000 Irish students, teachers and parents between 2015 and 2017 – found that gender stereotypes are still acting as barriers to girls taking up careers in STEM.

Teachers still think tech is just for boys

Shockingly, one-third of parents and teachers (29pc) still perceive STEM disciplines as being more closely aligned with boys’ brains, personalities and hobbies.

“A new trend that has emerged is the need to change the ways that we talk about STEM careers,” said Paula Neary, client director at Accenture Ireland. “The report indicates that descriptive job titles such as ‘sports equipment inventor’ are more appealing to young girls than traditional jobs titles such as ‘engineer’.

“In order for Ireland to continue to compete on a global stage, we need to equip young people with STEM skills, and fast,” she continued.

“The scale of digital disruption taking place across every industry means that the workforce of the future need to have a strong set of core skills, which are developed through a STEM education. We need to inform and encourage girls in particular so that they see the possibilities of a career in STEM. Industry, government and education bodies need to come together [to] equip women with new skills as contributors to the economy and to society, and ensure no girl is left behind as the world transforms.”

Time to educate teachers

Accenture and I Wish urge that more education and support be directed at teachers and parents to encourage girls to look more positively on STEM courses.

They advise early intervention to alleviate the negative perceptions about STEM at a young age, urging parents to educate themselves further about STEM subjects, and calling for training and supports for teachers – especially around careers and course options – to be provided.

“Giving teachers and girls knowledge, information and access is key,” said Ruth Buckley, co-founder of I Wish.

“We cannot leave girls’ inclusion to chance; we need to have a consistent and systematic focus on STEM through our education system as well as supporting teachers, so that they can communicate and inform young girls on the value and opportunities of STEM subjects, courses and careers.”

The study found that two-thirds of girls (65pc) say their parents are most likely to influence subject choices at school, and half said their parents influence their career aspirations.

But, despite their high level of influence, only one in four (24pc) parents feel ‘very informed’ about the variety of STEM career opportunities, and a significant 54pc stated that they have no experience of modern STEM careers to pass on to their children.

More than half of parents (52pc) admit to having personally made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys when it comes to STEM subjects, and more than half of teachers (53pc) have witnessed girls drop STEM subjects in school due to pressure from a parent.

Because parents and teachers think STEM subjects suit boys better, one in four girls feel there are no financial rewards to be gained from a career in STEM. This is despite science and tech jobs being among the highest paid in the world.

The gender divide begins as young as 7

Parents, teachers and stereotypes still deny girls a rewarding future in STEM

From left: Paula Neary, client director at Accenture Ireland, and Caroline O’Driscoll, I Wish co-founder. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

Almost a quarter of teachers feel that the gender divergence in perceptions of STEM begins between the ages of seven and 11, with one in 10 teachers believing that the gender gap begins to appear before primary school.

When it comes to choosing what to study, 94pc of female students are hugely influenced by how subjects are taught.

However, one-third of teachers surveyed said they did not know enough about STEM and its related courses and careers.

Amongst girls’ schools that attended three or more STEM events, 30pc chose to do at least two STEM subjects in Leaving Cert compared to 20pc who attended two or less.

Alarmingly, 82pc of the girls surveyed indicated that they want a career where they can help other people, yet they cannot clearly see how STEM can facilitate that.

The majority of teachers (94pc) recognise the opportunities for STEM careers, and 74pc want more support though training and access to STEM role models and industry.

“I want Ireland to be a leader in the provision of STEM education,” said Education Minister Richard Bruton, TD, upon the report’s publication.

“Last year, I published a STEM report and prioritised 21 actions for implementation, including actions to increase the take-up of STEM subjects by girls. I will shortly publish a STEM education policy statement, which will set out the actions we need to take to become a world leader in the provision of STEM education.”

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist. He joined Silicon Republic in 2002 to become the fulcrum of the company’s news service He was recipient of the Irish Internet Association’s NetVisionary Technology Journalist Award 2005 and Siliconrepublic.com has been awarded ‘Best Technology Site’ at the Irish Web Awards seven times. In 2011 he received the David Manley Award commending him for his dedication to covering entrepreneurs. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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