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Efforts abound to increase female participation in STEM

November 17, 2022
By: Jonathan Dillon

As opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) develop around the country, different inclusion programs are being put in place to increase participation for women in the field. SSTI previously released an article highlighting the lack of female participation in certain STEM careers, like computer science and engineering, despite tech industries growing in different cities around the country. This week’s story focuses on different efforts that are in place to help turn that tide and increase women’s participation in STEM fields and the results the efforts are having.

A frequently-raised issue related to women specifically in computer science is the lack of female representation and role models. NSF awarded a grant for Code: Sci Girls, a three-year project designed to engage 8 to 13-year-old girls in coding through transmedia programming to help inspire and prepare them for future computer science studies and career paths. The grant helped produce a show shown on PBS that has proven effective in piquing the interest of young girls in the STEM field. Episodes also stream on Amazon and the SciGirls YouTube channel. The episodes garnered 25 million streams on PBS platforms and 1.3 million viewer impressions on air. Episodes aired in 47 states in 93 percent of all U.S. households since 2011.

More than 1,600 SciGirls programs have been created reaching 104,773 youth participants. According to the SciGirls Connect 2021 Study Report, when giving ratings on a scale of 1 to 5, girls participating in the study indicated a significantly higher interest in coding activities having an average interest rating of 3.94. The mean increase in interest rating was 0.31 with a 95% confidence interval ranging from 0.07 to 0.55.  Participants also indicated a significantly higher interest in coding applications with an average interest rating of 3.85. The mean increase in interest rating was 0.38 with a 95% confidence interval ranging from 0.15 to 0.60.  Additionally, the report indicated participants developing a significantly higher interest in code-related jobs or careers with an average rating of 3.11. The mean increase in interest rating was 0.28 with a 95% confidence interval ranging from 0.05 to 0.53. 

Another organization that has been making headway in encouraging more girls into STEM has been the IF/THEN initiative. IF/THEN seeks to further advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers. One way the organization increases STEM awareness is through a media franchise that uplifts women leading careers in the STEM field to shape the perspectives of young girls called Mission Unstoppable. The TV series, hosted by actress Miranda Cosgrove, which is also available on YouTube, uses storytelling to increase women and girls’ awareness of STEM professions. An analysis that was provided to SSTI detailed the impact of the show, finding a +17-point increase in agreement with the statement “I would like to have a career in a STEM field” among girls who watched the Mission Unstoppable television series and/or digital content. Furthermore, Mission Unstoppable has delivered a 16-point increase in girls saying they will take courses in high school and college to help them pursue a career in STEM; research found that Mission Unstoppable significantly increases girls’ perceptions of STEM subjects.

Moving more young women into careers in STEM is important not just for equity, inclusion and good business practices, but also for the environment and progress of the industry. A 2019 analysis from McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile — up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014.

As the demand for STEM-based careers increases, initiatives and programs like those listed above may prove essential for improving female participation in the field. While SSTI examined a number of other initiatives designed to encourage greater participation, few of them had specific outcome measures. In order to make progress, more attention and resources will need to be placed on determining the results of the projects that are underway.


women, education stem, workforce