Gender stereotypes keeping girls from choosing STEM A levels

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Gender stereotypes are still prevalent among teenagers choosing their A level subjects, an analysis of school exam results data from infrastructure services firm AECOM has shown.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in UK schools are still more likely to be selected by boys at A level, despite evidence that female students in these classes have been performing better in their GCSEs, resulting in a lack of gender diversity in technical careers.

Richard Robinson, Chief Executive, Civil Infrastructure, EMEA and India, at AECOM, explained:

“Technical industries such as engineering need to capture the imagination of young people, and girls in particular, to encourage them into technical professions. Stereotypes about construction sites are still very much in existence, but the reality is very different.

“Young people need to hear about the exciting, intellectually challenging work engineers do to build a better world, from designing sustainable transport and energy infrastructure to protecting people from floods or planning cities of the future. If more teenagers are made aware of the opportunities to travel the world and work on high-profile projects that really benefit society, the numbers seeking to enter the profession will inevitably increase.”

In 2009, 66 percent of girls achieved grade C or above in STEM subjects, narrowly beating the 63 percent of boys achieving the same level. Yet within five years (by 2014), the gap in performance more than doubled, with 72 percent of girls achieving grade C or above compared to just 66 percent of boys.

Despite this, and while overall selection of STEM A levels is up by 19 percent over the same five-year period, the number of male candidates rose much faster than the number of female candidates in many core STEM subjects.

Based on their research, AECOM believe that, when faced when selecting a narrower number of subjects, gender stereotypes about education and careers are still ingrained in the minds of teenagers.

They are calling for educators and businesses to re-frame the way opportunities in STEM subjects are presented to girls, to get them excited about careers in technical industries.

Robinson added:

“Attracting and developing a diverse range of people from a variety of different backgrounds is vital to our success as a business and the projects we deliver. The industry needs to be smarter at tapping into the engineers of the future, in particular young women, many of whom don’t consider engineering a career option.”

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