When children are asked to draw a picture of a scientist, what do you think the image will look like?

It’s a commonly used activity in science classrooms and research studies called, the “draw a scientist test”. Not surprisingly, many children tend to draw men. In fact, when asked to draw an engineer in particular, one of the most common outcomes is a picture of a man wearing overalls, holding a wrench.

This tells us something very important: science careers and activities are perceived, even by young children, to be inherently masculine. It is partly because of this stereotype that girls and women remain under-represented in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, also known as STEM. That’s why days like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science are a great way to celebrate female scientists and pave way for further gender equality in this field.

What can we do to show young girls that they do, in fact, have an important role to play in the development of scientific knowledge?, and they are more than capable of being successful in a STEM-related career?

Female scientists as role models

Female role models can play a large part in encouraging girls to become involved in science. However, there is no “one size fits all” for this approach.  Girls are individuals and have unique concepts of who they self-identify with. Not every girl will feel the same connection to a particular female scientist, but luckily there is a great deal of diversity present among the science community.

There are women in all different disciplines of science, of all different cultural backgrounds, with varying personalities and public images. You and your daughter could embark on a fun research assignment to help you find a strong, intelligent woman in science who she will look up to and be inspired by. You might even consider contacting her role model, as many women in science are eager to offer mentor support.

The importance of education

Of course, education is incredibly important in the pursuit of science. We are constantly learning and there are new discoveries! This is why science is so exciting.

There’s more to STEM than you may think. Being a scientist doesn’t mean you only spend time in a lab. For example, I have had the opportunity to teach science to young students and witnessing the expressions on their faces during the “aha” moment when they make a discovery is incredibly fulfilling. Even the students who appear disinterested at first inevitably become curious and leave in awe of what nature is capable of!

Pursuing science and other subjects often means pursuing higher education. Whether it is college or university, being ready for the future is important. And keep an eye out for scholarships along the way! One of the scholarships I was fortunate enough to receive is the CST Graduate Award, which is helping me through my graduate education.

Showing girls the everyday impact of science

Showing young girls science-related projects that have a social or environmental impact, helps them see and understand the relevance of science in our communities and daily lives. For example, start a backyard or community vegetable garden, and donate the produce to a local food bank or to a school lunch program. Girls and boys will enjoy the hands-on aspects and will feel personal fulfillment after having made a positive difference in their community.

There are endless ways to link science and social justice to show girls that through science they can make a difference, that their contributions are highly valued and that STEM is fun.