Microsoft Study: High School-Age Girls Benefit from Female STEM Role Models

We have all seen those illustrated books that are meant to inspire girls when they are in elementary and middle school – those biographies of scientists like Marie Curie and Sally Ride. By the time girls get to high school, they aren’t reading books like those any longer. But does that mean that by the time girls reach high school, they no longer need role models to motivate them to enter STEM careers

Hardly, according to a  Europe-wide study conducted by Microsoft in 2018. The study, which surveyed 11,570 young women aged 11-30 across a dozen European countries, found that the number of girls who are interested in STEM careers doubles when they have a role model to inspire them. The study also found that girls’ interest in STEM generally starts to decrease at about age 15.

How do models help sustain girls’ interest in STEM? Here are some findings from the study:

  • Forty-one percent of high school girls who have female STEM role models become increasingly interested in STEM through their high school years, compared to only 26% of girls who do not have role models.
  • If a girl has a positive role model in one STEM area, the effect will be felt in other STEM areas as well. For example, a girl who has a positive math role model will do better in other STEM subjects too.
  • Fifty-one percent of girls who have STEM role models can envision a future STEM career. However, only 38% of girls with STEM role models go on to actually work in STEM fields.
  • Girls whose families support the presence of role models are more likely to pursue STEM careers.
  • Girls with strong role models are more likely to rely on the support of peer students than they are to rely on traditional male role models.

And some advice for teachers on putting the power of role models to work  . . .

Try to connect students with nearby women who are working in STEM fields. The Microsoft study found that women who are working in STEM fields are the most effective role models to sustain girls’ interest. Celebrities are the least influential.

And keep it real. Microsoft’s study found that girls are more inspired to go into STEM when they study and experience what STEM can do in real-world settings, not only in theoretical ways in the classroom. According to the researchers, “Microsoft’s research has also shown that another vital factor for engaging girls with STEM is the use of real-world examples to spark a passion and interest – an important responsibility for teachers and educators to take into consideration.”

To Learn More about STEM College & Career Options and Gender Differences

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