Teachers and parents
in the UK have a five-year window to grow girls’ interest in science,
technology, engineering and maths (STEM) before it starts to wane,
according to Microsoft research that sheds light on the reasons behind
the STEM gender gap for the first time.
The study, which focuses on 1,000 women between the ages of 11 and 30,
reveals why many girls decide against a career in one of these technical
sectors and what can be done to address the issue.
Over the past decade, employment in the UK technology sector has grown
2.8 times faster than overall employment, according to a report by Tech
City, which supports the digital economy. Cultivating girls’ initial
interest in STEM and encouraging them to pursue careers in this field
will not only create greater job security for the next generation; it
can also boost the wider economy and ensure the UK remains at the
forefront of the global cloud-enabled economy.
found that girls in the UK become interested in STEM subjects just
before the age of 11 but this drops sharply when they turn 16. In
addition, less than half (43%) of those surveyed said they would
consider a career in STEM.
Twelve-year-old Paisley Edwards, from Croydon, was one of the girls
surveyed. Said she benefited from her mum being a scientist at a
“They say science is quite hard. But I say if you put your mind to it,
it’s quite easy,” she said. “Sometimes when teachers explain [science]
it’s not really fun, but my mum, because she knows a lot about it, she
explains it more thoroughly and more interestingly. She influences me in
the way I think about it, so it’s not really boring.”
Having a role model was one of the most effective ways to prevent girls
falling out of love with STEM subjects, Microsoft’s research revealed.
Others included parental and teacher support, practical experience and
knowledge of STEM subjects’ application in the real world, and girls
believing they will be treated as equally as men working in STEM.
In the UK, 44% of girls say that both parents talk to them about STEM,
53% believe there are encouraging role models out there, but 62% percent
would like to see more encouragement coming from professional female
coders, developers and lab scientists. Twenty-three percent feel STEM
subjects are geared towards boys.
Davida Wilson, a 17-year-old from west London, said the importance of
learning STEM subjects should not be underestimated. In Year 11 (ages 15
and 16), she and her classmates were encouraged to participate in
science: “There was a lot of emphasis on female empowerment and women
being able to do anything. We were always encouraged to do as much as we
can to represent females in science.”
However, that changed by Year 13 (ages 17 and 18), when educators were
focused primarily on teaching students what they needed to know to pass
exams, Wilson said.
“In primary school there’s not much exposure to science, but at
secondary school it’s something new, so the teacher has a lot of
influence on whether you like it.”
To solve the issues raised by Wilson and many other girls her age
requires action from governments, schools, companies and parents, as
well as young women themselves.
Microsoft is playing its part by running female-focused events programs
across the world aimed at increasing interest in STEM and building
skills. These include DigiGirlz – which allows young women to get an
inside look at what it’s like to work at Microsoft and learn digital
skills through training and mentoring sessions – and Codess – which aims
to inspire female coders and help them achieve their professional goals
through networking events, mentoring and sharing advice and experiences.
In the UK alone, Microsoft has partnerships with Girlguiding and Modern
Muse – a website that allows women in business to share their workplace
experiences in the hope of inspiring youngsters. So far more than 70
“muses” – of all ages and stages of their careers, from a variety of
social and educational backgrounds, who work across business and society
– have signed up to Modern Muse website, which was officially launched
at an event in Westminster on Wednesday.
“The research reveals that we can’t afford to wait until girls are
thinking about university courses to foster their interest in STEM,”
commented Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK. “To stop the
drop-off in interest in STEM at 16, we’re working with governments,
teachers and non-profits to modernise the curriculum and provide better
access to mentors. That’s why we recently announced a national skills
programme to boost digital skills.
“We also want to show girls that technology can be a creative,
fulfilling career, through programmes such as our DigiGirlz camps which
aim to dispel stereotypes associated with the tech industry as well as
our involvement in, www.modernmuse.org, which gives girls access to
professional women from all industries, including our very own Microsoft
The UK survey formed part of wider Microsoft research that asked 11,500
women between the ages of 11 and 30 in 12 countries across Europe about
their attitudes to STEM.