Even with a higher priority placed on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) throughout education in the US, only a fraction of girls are likely to pursue a STEM career. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, while more than 57 percent of college undergraduates are women, only 18 percent progress into STEM careers. With a clear gap, Microsoft set out to better understand what causes girls and women to lose interest in STEM subjects and careers, as well as what strategies have the greatest potential to reverse the trend.
According to Microsoft, the goal of the study “was to inform our work in this area and to share learnings with schools, government leaders, nonprofits, employers and others. What we learned is that conditions and context can make a significant difference to girls, young women and their interest in STEM. And the solution doesn’t necessarily require a curricula overhaul.”
Dr. Shalini Kesar, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Southern Utah University and advocate for women in technology, has known for years that girls and young women are a critical missing part of STEM studies and careers.
“The stubborn gender disparity in STEM fields has sparked important debates on the underlying reasons,” said Kesar. “Some attribute the gender disparity to social and infrastructural factors, lack of mentors and role models, and lack of awareness about what these fields offer in terms of educational and career opportunities. Others point to studies that indicate traditional mindsets of computing as ‘boring’ and ‘only for boys’ as a major reason why girls and young women do not consider a degree or career in this field.”
The study found that “we may be able to make significant strides just by showing girls and young women how STEM knowledge is applicable outside of the classroom, and how it can power their aspirations to make the world a better place.”
“Recently, I was invited to collaborate with Microsoft on research which quantifies many of my observations from over 20 years of working to reduce the gender gap in STEM and computing,” said Kesar. “This work is an essential step forward in helping us learn more about how girls and young women currently perceive STEM.”
Dr. Kesar was recently recognized by the Women Tech Council, receiving the Education Excellence Award at the 2016 Women Tech Awards. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit her profile.
Shalini Kesar Professor of Information Systems
Specializing in management of electronic commerce, gender equality in computing, and disaster recovery