Washington, DC, November 2020, A new World Bank Group report explores global data and evidence to better understand the drivers and solutions related to gender gaps in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
The Equality Equation: Advancing the Participation of Women and Girls in STEM provides a rich review of global patterns of gender gaps in learning along the path to tertiary education, focusing on STEM.
It finds that in the subset of countries with standardized science and mathematics test data, there is no systematic advantage for boys. And in some countries, girls are in fact outperforming boys.
Despite these trends and the fact that women are more likely to go to university than men, women are less likely to study STEM fields, particularly engineering, ICT, and physics. These disparities are also reflected in the labor market: Women who study STEM fields are less likely to enter into STEM careers and exit these careers earlier than male peers.
An interesting phenomenon is also apparent: As country income rises, gaps between the likelihood of studying STEM between women and men widens. Women in low-income countries are 7 percentage points less likely than men to enroll in tertiary programs in engineering, manufacturing, and construction. In upper-middle-income and high-income countries, the gaps widen to 15 and 17 percentage points, respectively.
The report digs deep to answer this particular question: If level of enrollment and test scores are not lower for girls and women, what drives the STEM gender gap?
“We distill a large body of evidence, which has grown in recent years, that shows that stereotypes and biases are important drivers of gender gaps in STEM,” said Eliana Rubiano Matulevich, co-author of the report. This includes perceptions (own, parents, teachers, peers, coworkers) about who is talented in science and mathematics or about who has the ability or should be working in STEM jobs. This emerges in the classroom, specifically in curricula and educational materials. And they emerge in the home where surveys show that parents show a greater preference for sons to work in STEM. And finally, studies show bias in the workplace where women face more discrimination than their male colleagues, especially in more male-dominated STEM fields.
So what can be done?
The report offers several solutions to tackle gender gaps in STEM, including:
· Address gender biases in learning materials. For example, biographies of women who have succeeded in male-dominated fields can alter the career aspirations of girls from traditional to nontraditional careers.
· Engage parents. Engaging parents of girls in STEM can contribute to reshaping parental attitudes toward the participation of girls in engineering.
· Encourage participation in extracurricular activities. Museum visits, competitions, extracurricular clubs, and robotics and coding camps offer promise in fostering interest in STEM among both boys and girls.
· Feature female role models. Role models provide examples of the kind of success that one may achieve (“I can be like her”) and often also supply a template of the behaviors that may be needed to achieve success.
· Promote partnerships with the private sector. The private sector can play a role, by bringing financial support to non-profit STEM initiatives, facilitating exposure to female role models and internship opportunities targeting secondary school girls.
Going forward, Alicia Hammond, a co-author notes “there are a number of areas ripe for more data and further research, especially from low and middle-income contexts. We also need more rigorous methodologies as well as larger and more diverse samples. This will set us on the course for more evidence and better policy design on closing gender gaps in STEM, both in schools and in the workplace.”