Girls avoid STEM fields because of the stereotype it's for boys, says survey

A well-established gender gap exists in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

There are many initiatives to try to encourage girls and women to pursue a career in STEM — even the last two federal budgets has made mention of this. But men still hold these jobs at a much higher rate than women.

According to a new survey from the not-for-profit STEM Camp, the biggest reason why girls don't pursue those jobs is because of stereotypes.

"74 per cent of respondents indicated it was a stereotype of the traditionally perceived male versus female jobs," said Kevin Cougler, CEO of STEM Camp.

"It shows me we've got a long way to go in convincing the girls those traditionally perceived male jobs is not the case, they're just as capable of doing it as the boys."

The survey went out to about 30,000 to 40,000 people across Ontario and Quebec. An online tool collected the data, said Cougler. 

He said there are many reasons why more girls don't pursue a career or education in STEM fields. 

"Some are based on cultural or religious beliefs, some it's just a lack of interest or lack or role models, career opportunities those types of perceptions," said Cougler. 

He said more needs to be done by both schools and parents to make sure girls get interested.

"I think the biggest thing we can do is try and encourage kids to 'go ahead, make those messes,' grab stuff out of the kitchen cupboard, download some kind of STEM activity online, do it with your kid," he said.

"STEM isn't just robotics or computers, it's thinking and being creative and being innovative and exploring."

He said teachers can also do more hands-on activities and have better options to let kids figure out problems on their own. 

Another great time to get young girls interested in STEM is at a sleepover party.

"The peer influence by those girlfriends is hugely important, so grab four or five of them, do an experiment for half an hour, make it fun and then go watch the movie," said Cougler.

Gender gap

Cougler said it's important for people to realize the wide gap between men and women in STEM roles because of Canada's ranking on the global innovation stage. He said the country has slipped out of the top ten spots on the global ranking chart.

He said innovation comes through the STEM subjects. 

"We need to have innovative people and if we're not attracting young girls to these STEM careers, we're not going to have enough to do that in the future."