It is difficult enough being a parent. However, being a father, and trying to encourage your daughter to embark on an appropriate and rewarding career, especially in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), is even more of a challenge!
It is estimated that in the UK, for example, only 1% of parents want their daughters to be engineers. Little clear guidance is available for parents on what to do about this, and much popular material on the subject is written by mothers, mainly for other women (see suggested reading below). This guidance note is therefore intended to provide fathers with some basic advice, drawn from academic literature, popular articles, and the experiences of members of the TEQtogether team, about what they can do to support their daughters in developing a career in STEM. Unless men take action on this, they will help perpetuate a system that limits the numbers of girls studying STEM subjects at school or university, and this in turn seriously curtails the numbers of women entering careers in engineering, science, technology and mathematics.
There are probably as many different views about what contributes to good parenting as there are parents! Fashions in parenting also change over time, and are very closely related to broader prevalent aspects of culture and society. In India, for example, the large number of young women studying Computing and Human-Computer Interaction is partly because these subjects are seen as being desirable by parents in the marriage market (Thakkar et al., 2018). One of the most important challenges of parenting in all cultures, though, is getting the balance right between being proactive and being enabling. Some evidence suggests that when parents are overly proactive, this can actually lead to unintended outcomes. Hence, in such contexts it is not always a good thing for fathers to over-encourage their daughters to focus excessively on STEM subjects. Creating an enabling environment, and providing reactive support for their daughters is thus often a more productive way to encourage mutually shared desirable outcomes. It is also clear that not every child has the aptitude to be successful in STEM subjects, and so children should therefore not all necesssarily be encouraged to pursue such interests when they prefer to do other things.
The list below of ten things that fathers can usefully do to support and empower girls who show an interest in technology and STEM subjects therefore focuses particularly on creating an appropriate enabling and supportive environment in which their daughters can pursue their interests. Fathers have a very important role in supporting their daughters and encouraging them to realise that girls can indeed achieve success in STEM subjects.
Empowering girls in STEM: ten things that fathers can do
- Encourage your daughter to be creative and to explore.
- Don’t assume that girls want to play “girly” games.
- Spend time using technology with your daughter.
- Treat your sons and daughters equally with respect to education and careers.
- Discuss online safety and security with her.
- Let your daughter make a mess.
- Ensure that she has access to experimental engineering and science at school.
- Be supportive when she challenges social norms.
- Always be there to help find answers to problems together.
- Assume that she knows more about technology than you do.
This Guidance Note was prepared by Ettie Unwin and Tim Unwin and is available for downloading (.pdf format) in English here, in Deutsch hier (translated by Paul Spiesberger), and en español aquí (translated by Maria Garrido).
Useful articles in popular media or online that address the role of fathers in supporting girls who want to study STEM subjects include:
- Choney, S. (2018) Why do girls lose interest in STEM? New research has some answers — and what we can do about it, Microsoft.
- Davidson, L. (2014) Just one percent of parents want their daughters to be engineers, The Telegraph.
- Masoff, J. and Scolnik, T. (no date) 6 things parents can do to get their daughters excited about STEM
- Oakley, B. (2018) Make Your Daughter Practice Math. She’ll Thank You Later: The way we teach math in America hurts all students, but it may be hurting girls the most, New York Times.
- Smith (2016) Why we shouldn’t teach girls to code,
- Unwin, E. (2016) National Women in Engineering Day: Cambridge PhD student Ettie Unwin discusses the issues, The Engineer
- West, L. (2014) Strategies for Parents to Support Daughters in STEM, University of Nevada.
- Yeleswarapu, M. (2017) Five Ways to Support Your Daughter’s Interest in STEM, as told by a High Schooler.
A short selection of some of the recent extensive academic research of relevance:
- Casad, B.J., Hale, P., and Wachs, F.L. (2015) Parent-child math anxiety and math-gender stereotypes predict adolescents’ math education outcomes, Frontiers in Psychology,
- Gurian, M. (2018) The minds of boys and girls: getting serious about girls and STEM, Psychology Today.
- Jacobs, J., Ahmad, S. , and Sax, L.J. (2017) Planning a career in engineering: parental effects on sons and daughters, Social Sciences, 6(1), https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6010002
- Suizzo, M-A., Rackley, K.R., Robbins, P.A., Jackson, K.M., and Rarick, J.R.D. (2017) The Unique Effects of Fathers’ Warmth on Adolescents’ Positive Beliefs and Behaviors: Pathways to Resilience in Low-Income Families, Sex Roles, 77(1-2), 46-58.
- Tomasetto, C., Mirisola, A., Galdi, S., and Cadinu, M. (2015) Parents’ math–gender stereotypes, children’s self-perception of ability, and children’s appraisal of parents’ evaluations in 6-year-olds, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 42, 186-198.
- Wang, M-T. and Degol, J.L. (2017) Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Current Knowledge, Implications for Practice, Policy, and Future Directions, Educational Psychology Review, 29(1), 119-140.
[Featured image at top of page is of girls learning to use computers under an initiative of the then Minister of ICT, Anusha Rahman, from the Propakistani site; trusting our use of it here is not a copyright infringement]
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