How to make STEM subjects gender neutral

Elementary School Science Classroom: Cute Little Girl Looks Under Microscope, Boy Uses Digital Tablet Computer to Check Information on the Internet. Teacher Observes from Behind, STEM education, gender neutral

There are numerous reasons why women aren’t as prominent in STEM roles as males and like many things in life, the solution is not black and white.

Often, the barriers that females face are complex and systemic.

But, one of the things that has always struck me about STEM subjects is the experience that many females have in their earliest years at school.

When I think about studying maths, science and technology at school, these were subjects that were incredibly gender-bias, from the teachers being mostly male dominated, to the role models and careers presented to us.

We can all remember in the height of the pandemic, my 8 year old told me he wanted to be a scientist so he could develop a vaccine to help people. It sounds trivial, but what really struck me was that he was able to see the direct impact that science and technology can have on our lives and connect himself to a career prospect. We know that younger generations care enormously about the impact that they have on the world and what more of an impact can science and technology have on our everyday lives?

Context based learning in STEM subjects is key, as this is critical to how young girls perceive STEM subjects.

A teacher who is able to connect a young girl’s love of the environment, for example, could show that girl early on how she might be able to work in STEM and fight climate change or deliver safe drinking water to communities, for example.

As is the way in many industries, young girls also need female role models to look up to: Buzz Aldrin, Albert Einstein, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are household names and while learning resources are definitely doing their part to include more females into the mix, there’s a lack of female scientists that mainstream society can name at the drop of a hat. A report from Education Services Australia makes a number of recommendations for making STEM subjects more gender-neutral and one of the key recommendations is reviewing the media that’s used for lessons. Males feature heavily in the representation of STEM roles, whereas a truly gender-neutral agenda would ideally include a diverse range of people and genders participating in STEM and show young girls that many women have paved the way before them.

I’m also a big believer in subtle changes. The same report makes a number of recommendations for making STEM learning environments more inclusive. The report notes that classrooms can be decorated with neutral objects such as plants and lights and also notes that gender-balanced posters are key as well. Interestingly, it also notes that many STEM products themselves could do with being neutralised, for example, looking at using primary coloured equipment.

Is there a quick fix or a cure for the issue?

No. As I’ve mentioned, there are many reasons why women don’t enter the STEM field, many of them complex and systemic. But, education is our first foray into the STEM field, so we can at least start off by giving females a better first impression.

About the author

Zeinab Ardeshir co-founded Pill Sorted, a personalised pharmacy service, nearly three years ago with the aim of disrupting the traditionally transactional pharma experience and instead delivering a compassionate, more relationship-focused experience.

The healthtech – which works with a number of NHS services to deliver medications – uses technology to get medication dispensed and delivered to patients in a timely manner, which in turn means that pharmacists are able to optimise their time consulting patients.

Zeinab holds a Doctor of Pharmacy from Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences and a Postgraduate diploma for Overseas Pharmacists from Aston University and prior to Co-founding Pill Sorted, spent nearly 11 years working as a pharmacist at Boots and Tesco.