Need More Scientists and Mathematicians? Close the Gender Gap
Dana Goldstein <> on
November 4, 2011 - 3:12pm ET

Many college students who are initially drawn to math and science end up
changing majors,
Drew in a
*New York Times* piece today. Why? In short, the classes are abstract,
difficult and often large and impersonal, so it’s easy for those who are
bored or struggling to fall between the cracks. Yet we know it’s a good
idea to encourage students with any interest or aptitude at all in STEM
(science, technology, engineering and math) fields to stick with them. Over
the past decade<>,
three times as many STEM jobs were created as non-STEM jobs, and STEM
workers were less likely to be unemployed. Economists expect those trends
to continue over the next ten years.

Perhaps the easiest way to get more Americans into STEM is to close the
massive gender gaps in these fields. According to an August
the Commerce Department, women hold just 25 percent of STEM positions.
In rapidly expanding careers like computer science, the news is even worse:
today, women hold 27 percent of all CS jobs, down from 30 percent a decade
ago, and account for just 20 percent of undergraduate CS majors, down from
36 percent in 1986. The trend lines are going in the wrong direction.

Surveys of high-tech professionals find that
their interest in STEM back to their early childhoods. So what can
parents and schools do to make sure girls become passionate about math,
science, and technology? Here are some ideas backed up by research:


   Make sure your daughter has *“tinkering”
   Blocks, Knex, microscopes and model rocket kits will develop her spatial
   reasoning skills and encourage her to ask questions about the physical

   *Allow her to play video and computer games*, and even program her own!
   Lots of computer programmers get started as kids, developing tweaks and
   work-arounds to their favorite games. Free software like
ALICE<>allows both kids and adults to learn the
basics of computer-game
   programming at home. And if your daughter is exposed to programming at an
   early age, research shows she is less likely to drop-out of those
   challenging freshman-year introductory math, computing, and engineering
   courses, because she understands how the concepts can be applied in the
   real world.

   *Ask your child’s teacher* to make sure girls get equal time with
   classroom technology…even if boys push harder for computer time and girls
   seem less interested. Here are some great
a Virginia public school teacher.

Some of this advice goes against the grain of the trend toward
and schooling: the idea that children shouldn’t engage with
computers, video games or iPads until they are 12 or 13. I happen to
disagree, in part because we need to close gender, race and class
disparities in access to technology and to high-tech jobs. All things in