The world has a problem getting -- and keeping -- girls in science, despite campaigns in various countries to raise awareness in schools and recruit students to tech companies. But recent research suggests children's parents could be the ones primarily perpetuating gender stereotypes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The Institution of Engineering and Technology, a professional British society, found that only 7 percent of mothers and fathers said they would encourage their daughters to pursue engineering careers. When parents were asked what kinds of jobs they thought their daughters would like, their responses were dominated by vocations traditionally seen as female, including education and child care, the arts, healthcare and hair and beauty, according to an article published Friday in Plants & Works Engineering magazine. When they were asked the same about their sons, parents mentioned information technology, sports and engineering.
"As a community, we need to overcome negative and outdated perceptions of engineering to encourage more young people to consider it as a career option," Paul Jackson, chief executive of EngineeringUK, said.
Only about 14 percent of engineers are women, according to Forbes, and they account for about 27 percent of all computer science jobs. Improving those numbers has been the focus of several initiatives in the U.K., with its Engineer a Better World campaign, and in the United States.
The highest number of girls attended this year's White House Science Fair, held in connection with President Barack Obama's Educate to Innovate campaign. Microsoft released a video in March called "Girls Do Science" featuring girls who said they loved science but were told it's for boys. Also, the Girls Who Code nonprofit is about to run its third summer of immersion programs to teach high schoolers computer science.
Some research suggests that change, though, must start with parents. They may inadvertently discourage their daughters' interest in STEM, Robin Hauser Reynolds, director of "Code: Debugging the Gender Gap," said this week on the Today Show. "We need to be sure we instill confidence in our children that they can be whatever they want to be, whether it's a boy who wants to be a nurse or a girl who wants to be a rocket scientist," she said. "As parents we need to challenge ourselves to break stereotypes."