Women, who represent over half of the world’s population, have long been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions. In fact, only 28 percent of scientific researchers worldwide are women. What can we do to encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in STEM? It turns out mentoring could play a major role in how female students perceive STEM subjects and jobs.
Only four percent of female students interested in pursuing STEM were encouraged to do so by a mentor, but research shows that mentoring can help protect female students against negative stereotypes and give them a sense of belonging.
In a recent study at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, researchers recruited 150 women who had enrolled in engineering courses and randomly assigned them to a female mentor, a male mentor or no mentor. A year later, the researchers found that students paired with female mentors felt more accepted by their peers, less invisible and more confident. If those findings aren’t enough, read these accounts of how female mentorship has helped these women in technology grow their careers. As one of the women interviewed explains, “one of the biggest challenges for women is having the confidence to enter into leadership roles or entrepreneurship. That’s where role models come in – it’s good to see people’s career road maps.”