When girls engage in STEM, everyone wins.

There’s a gap between girls and boys when it comes to their interest in and their pursuit of STEM subjects. No surprise here, but there’s also a gap in the number of women and men in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields like coding and cybersecurity among others. Why do you think that is?

An ill-informed argument might suggest achievement: “Boys are just better at STEM subjects than girls.” No, that’s not it. A large body of research shows that girls perform as well as boys in math. And in fact, middle school girls pass algebra at higher rates than boys. 

Another misguided position might point to the toys we give our kids when they’re young. But it’s way too simplistic to say the STEM gap exists because girls play dress-up with dolls and boys play with things that go vroom. That’s giving a bit too much weight to playthings. (And come on, we all know that Barbie has worked in basically every STEM field over the years!)

So why is there a STEM gap for girls? It doesn’t have to do with the test scores or favorite toys—it’s stereotypes, cultural norms and societal pressures that make girls think they can’t dream big. Girls aren’t less capable than boys. But the world around them can make them think that’s true. The media reinforces it. Books on library shelves don’t exactly refute it. Even grown-ups who love the girls in their lives can unwittingly recreate this horrible untruth.

Ask any kid to draw a mathematician and you’ll probably get a picture of a man (and he’ll probably be wearing glasses). This is a very basic way of pointing out that, historically and culturally speaking, we collectively see these types of jobs as being held by men.  

“The self-limiting beliefs these stereotypes create can snowball to affect a girl’s trajectory and future career choices,” according to Barbie’s Dream Gap Project. “They may even discourage women to pursue prestigious careers, especially in fields that value brilliance.” 

And therein lies the benefit of STEM for girls and the answer to “Why STEM for girls?” Because when girls engage in STEM, everyone wins.

What happens when girls love STEM, too

The benefits of STEM for girls are far-reaching. For starters, engaging girls in STEM can help stimulate their imaginations and foster creativity. Yes, many different forms of play can do that but STEM encourages girls to flex these important muscles through the lens of discovery.

Exposure to STEM also can help boost girls’ confidence and resilience. The more girls explore STEM subjects and are exposed to female role models in STEM fields, the more confident they become that STEM is a perfect fit for them. Resilience, meanwhile, is tied to the experimentation side of STEM. The process of designing and building, testing and failing (the engineering design process, by the way), helps instill the important lesson that failing is OK and actually helps lead to success.

This is a Play Like a Girl principle our mentors teach girls like Carwyn, Maria, and Arianna and her sister in our Meet + Mentor program. They know that failing means you’re trying. So keep trying. And also keep learning. Because the more you learn from your failures, the closer you come to your successes. 

When girls engage in STEM, they’re also more creative thinkers, better problem solvers and are more confident in their own abilities. And those qualities will transfer to their adult lives—whether they pursue careers in STEM fields or not. These skills will naturally filter into every college classroom, locker room and C-suite.

STEM for girls and the Play Like a Girl mission 

At Play Like a Girl, we envision a world where the playing field is level and every girl reaches her full potential. We deliver programs to leverage the skills girls gain from sports to propel them into male-dominated careers in STEM. Our programs include girls-only camps and sports clinics, hands-on STEM education, makerspace workshops, mentoring opportunities with inspiring female role models, corporate field trips, and powerful girl-centered messaging.

When we give our girls the opportunity to meet a female engineer or a female bat conservationist like If/Then Ambassador and Play Like a Girl mentor Dr. Kristen Lear, we’re not discounting the hard work done by men in those same roles. Instead, we’re saying, “If you can see it, you can be it.”

When we get a group of girls together to geek out over a STEM topic, we aren’t saying, “No boys allowed.” Instead, we’re saying this is a space just for girls because we want to create and cultivate a sense of belonging that for too long has been missing for them in these male-dominated subject areas.

There may be a time in the future when we don’t need to carve out special programs dubbed “STEM for girls.” (When that time comes, we might be out of a job!) But for now, we believe it’s critical to give girls a dedicated community wherein they can explore their unlimited potential–and have the support of other brilliant girls and women like themselves.

And that critical work is at the heart of our efforts here at Play Like a Girl. Take a peek to see our mission in action.