Closing the STEM Gap for Girls

One of the biggest challenges facing K-12 educators today is how to engage young women in subjects that will lead to high-paying careers in science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to a recent study, 74 percent of high school girls are interested in STEM subjects, however more than half say that girls their age do not typically consider a career in these fields. Currently, only 25 percent of STEM jobs are filled by females. Meanwhile, jobs in these fields are expected to keep growing into the next decade, with more than 1 million unfilled STEM positions by 2018.

Every girl deserves to take part in creating technology, that will change our world and change who runs it.

—Malala Yousafzai, teenage co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

This special report by Jessie Woolley-Wilson addresses how teachers can create a strong foundation for girls to pursue their interest in STEM and overcome barriers, both self-imposed and cultural. You’ll become more aware of the tools for closing the gender gap, including:

Provide Equal Access to STEM Education

There’s no question that providing access to high-quality, engaging STEM education for all students, regardless of gender, race, or economic background, is critical. In fact, President Obama has said that increasing the number of women engaged in STEM fields is critical to our Nation’s ability to compete in the global marketplace. A recent statement from the White House put it this way: “Jump-starting girls’ interest in STEM subjects, boosting the percentage of scientists and engineers who are women…is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.”

Inspire Girls with Role Models

Research suggests that the presence of female peers and faculty members increases female retention in STEM majors in college. But a new study at the University of Warwick in England shows that early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math and science classes that students choose in college, and eventually the careers they choose and the wages they earn.  The good news is that there are a burgeoning number of organizations actively providing STEM role models and mentors for girls.

Integrate the Arts into STEM Education

Girls are typically more interested in the arts and humanities, partially because of societal gender bias. Weaving the arts into STEM education can be a key to sparking all students’ imagination and involvement, and can demonstrate how they can use STEM skills in the areas of design, performing arts, and creative planning in school and in their professional lives. An integrative approach may also help revive the interest that girls already have, but often fail to pursue.

Eliminate Unconscious Teacher Bias and Change the Status Quo

Research points to the influence of teachers’ unconscious bias toward girls and
highlights how very important even a small amount of encouragement can be. The Warwick University study suggests that teachers’ biases favoring boys bolster boys’ confidence and achievements in STEM courses and hold girls back from advanced level math and science classes. The solution lies in surfacing these attitudes and providing anti-gender bias training for preservice and in-service teachers.

About the Author: Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Chair, President, and CEO of DreamBox Learning, Inc.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Before joining DreamBox Learning, Wooley-Wilson was President of Blackboard’s K–12 Group where she led the company’s growth for the virtual and blended online learning market. Prior to Blackboard, she was President of LeapFrog SchoolHouse where she established SchoolHouse as a leader in ed-tech and one of the fastest growing educational software producers in the U.S.; Woolley-Wilson also held leadership positions at, the interactive division of the College Board, and at Kaplan, the leading test preparation company in the U.S.

As an ed-tech industry leader, she serves on the boards of several educational organizations including the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Camelot Education, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Locally, she serves on the boards of IslandWood, an environmental learning center that connects children to the outdoors, and Seattle Venture Partners International. Wooley-Wilson has also served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Technology and Education, and has presented at TEDx Rainier, SXSWedu, and DENT. She was awarded the 2015 Executive Excellence Award in the CEO of the Year category by Seattle Business magazine; she was also on the Forbes “Impact 15” list for being a disruptor of education, and was honored as a “Woman of Influence” by Puget Sound Business Journal for making an impact in the ed-tech industry.