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Many initiatives aim to close the gender gap in computer technology, data science, cybersecurity and beyond. However, the solution is not straightforward. We have to understand that stereotypes and biases about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers form early in life. STEM stereotypes are either gender-based (e.g., “STEM is for men”) or trait-based (e.g., “STEM is for geniuses”).
To address trait-based stereotypes, boys and girls need opportunities to explore and develop their interests. Engaging in STEM activities will help them develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. Such activities will help them learn how to break problems down into manageable parts and identify which parts to tackle first. Challenging activities help youth develop resilience so that, when they do experience a challenging situation, they won’t assume they are not “smart enough” and give up. Young people need to see STEM as something they can do and something worthwhile doing; now, and as a future career.
However, since gender stereotypes can form as early as age 5, it’s important there are role models and that programs start early. Teachers at all grade levels are implementing digital literacy across subjects. Let’s Talk Science offers free Professional Learning programs to help teachers improve their digital literacy and coding abilities. A variety of “virtual role models”, including careers in Information Technology and cybersecurity, are available through the Let’s Talk Science STEM careers resource collection.
Many factors affect your child’s career perceptions and ultimately, their career choices. These include their interests and ability, knowledge about careers, as well as a host of social factors. However, it’s clear that parents can influence their child’s career choices by supporting their interests and introducing them to the different jobs that people do. If they can see it, they can be it!
Model joy in STEM exploration
Parents can support and help develop their child’s interest in STEM through books or by encouraging hands-on play using puzzles and building toys. Celebrate a growth mindset when it comes to learning. Celebrate persistence when working on a problem. Rather than saying, “you’re smart” instead ask, “what did you learn?” to help your child recognize that we’re not born knowing how to do things; we learn how to do it. Using instructional websites and videos, explore technology with your child. Solve problems and learn coding together. Remember, after you spark an interest, follow through by staying involved.
Let’s Talk Science is committed to preparing Canadian youth for future careers and citizenship demands in a rapidly changing world.