More than half (60%) of 12-year-old girls in the United Kingdom and Ireland believe that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects are too difficult to learn, research has revealed.
The study, which saw Accenture survey more than 4,000 girls, young women, parents and teachers, demonstrates the perception that STEM subjects and careers are better suited to male personalities, hobbies and brains.
Half (51%) of the teachers and 43% of the parents surveyed said this perception helps explain the low uptake of STEM subjects by girls, while 47% of the young girls surveyed said such subjects are a better match for boys.
The research also suggests that parents and teachers must do more to encourage girls in the early stages of development to embrace STEM subjects if government and business initiatives to increase the number of women in STEM careers are to succeed.
Although girls ranked parents and teachers as their biggest influencers when making a decision about subject choice, more than half (51%) of parents said they feel ill-informed on the benefits of STEM subjects specifically, and only 14% said they understand the different career opportunities that exist for their daughters.
“It’s worrying that girls’ interest in STEM subjects tails off so early in their time at secondary school,” said Emma McGuigan, MD for Accenture Technology in the UK and Ireland. “With such a small percentage of parents understanding what these subjects can offer their daughters, it is not surprising that girls become disconnected from STEM.”
While emerging sectors like technology are starting to bridge the gender gap – with initiatives like TechFuture Girls, Stemettes, The Science Museum, techUK, The Women in IT Awards and Girls in Tech encouraging women to embrace the digital era – more than three-quarters (77%) of the girls surveyed said that the science and technology sector lacks high-profile female role models.
“It’s important that girls understand that these subjects are as much for them as they are for boys,” said the Tech Partnership’s CEO Karen Price. “While a lot of fantastic work has been done to encourage women and girls to embrace STEM, females still only comprise a small percentage of the workforce in related industries.
“If STEM businesses work together to support teachers and parents to get young girls excited about these subjects from a much younger age, we will be much closer to the goal of making the balance of men versus women in these careers more equal.”