written by Bumblebee Racing, a London based F1 in Schools team
Only 24% of people working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) are female. Yet, there is no evidence that men are more inclined to these professions biologically than women. A study conducted in 2015 by the National Centre of Education in the US demonstrated that in 26 of the 39 countries, girls and boys showed equal ability, and in 7 countries girls even performed significantly better. Given that there is no discernible correlation between STEM academic ability and gender, the large disparity when it comes to female participation at university lacks any form of justification. So if girls and boys perform equally in these subjects at school- what is causing women to decide against pursuing a degree or career in STEM?
Being students ourselves we decided to investigate our own curriculum as to why we feel we’re being discouraged.
he, him, his: how pronouns in textbooks discourage girls in science
It may not be obvious, but the language in textbooks subtly favors male pronouns like 'he,' 'him,' and 'Mr.' In our own review of a school math textbook, we found that female pronouns appeared 20% less often than male ones. This bias extends to images too—doctors are usually shown as men, while nurses are women, reinforcing outdated stereotypes in medicine. Studies show that these subtle cues have a big impact: 45% of kids aged 5-11 think only women can be nurses, and 22% believe doctors are predominantly men. This limits how young girls see their future roles and ambitions. It's high time schools address this and stop embedding stereotypes in educational materials.
challenging the narrative: STEM careers aren't too much for women
Misconceptions about STEM being 'masculine' or 'too competitive for women' not only create barriers like discrimination and imposter syndrome but actively deter us from entering the field," say the authors, who experienced this firsthand before participating in F1 in Schools. Schools and companies have a crucial role in dismantling these stereotypes early on, as they shape the future workforce.
Multiple studies, including one by McKinsey, highlight that diverse teams are more innovative and financially profitable.
With an increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusion, there's more need than ever for women in STEM—not just from a moral standpoint but also for the unique ideas and financial benefits they bring.
why the lack of female mentors matters
We ran our own eye-opening experiment with the kids we volunteer with, aged 9-11. When we asked them to name three scientists, they unanimously rattled off Newton, Einstein, and Darwin—all men. But ask them to name even one female scientist, and the room went silent. It's a glaring oversight, considering women have been at the forefront of critical discoveries. Take Esther Lederberg, for example; she was instrumental in the Nobel-winning work on bacterial genetics, yet her husband took all the credit.
"My female role models inspired me to pursue a career in STEM."
This problem isn't confined to the classroom. Google 'scientist,' and you'll find that less than 10% of the search results feature women. And those that do—like Marie Curie—are often portrayed as sidekicks to their male counterparts. This double standard is staggering. 'My female role models inspired me to pursue a career in STEM,' said 60% of current female professionals in the field. If we want to bridge the gender gap, it's imperative to shine a spotlight on independent female scientists from a young age.
paving the STEM path for future female leaders
We have listed the problems, but what are some solutions? There are no easy answers but here are some points which we think would have helped us and many other girls who might want to go into STEM.
1. diverse imagery in textbooks
Equal representation of female characters in STEM roles, like astronauts and doctors, can boost girls' comfort and interest in the field. Using gender-neutral terms or omitting pronouns altogether can also help, allowing girls to see themselves in these roles without preconceived notions.
2. girls only competitions, with female adjudicators
STEM competitions which are not female-only are often dominated by male competitors: since many more male teams or people are entering, more of those are successful. This can be discouraging for girls and may create the distorted impression that boys are more likely to excel in STEM subjects. Competitions where only girls can compete can not only provide more chances for girls to win in those competitions but can also give them more confidence in themselves and make them more likely to enter open competitions.
3. easy access to communication with other girls successful in STEM
Girls-only STEM competitions do more than just boost interest; they create a vital network of role models. Speaking from our experience in a global contest, we were inspired by a previous all-female team from our school who had won Nationals. Their guidance made us realize such achievements were within our reach, something we might have missed without them.
It’s clear gender inequality within the field of STEM is one of the most pronounced in our society. But, with more opportunities cropping up for budding female scientists in recent years, we are on the right track to bring the distribution of jobs into balance. Competitions such as F1 in Schools have played a key role in encouraging our progress in STEM and we hope that by sharing our views, we can encourage younger girls to take the first step.
about the authors
This article was written by Bumblebee Racing, a London based F1 in Schools team, which is composed of all female team members. To follow their journey along F1 in Schools, follow @bumblebeeracing6 on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org