Teen-Turn: Combating gender stereotypes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Europe and Northern America
Adolescents, Digital literacy, Disadvantaged socio-economic contexts, Networking, Private sector, Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Youth participation
Career counselling and professional development, Formal education and school contexts, Non-formal education and extracurricular contexts, Role models and mentoring
Globally, a significant digital gender divide exists for women and girls in access to information and communication technologies (ICT). Gender gaps also exist in digital skills. EQUALS research documents that women in numerous countries, including Ireland, are nearly 25 per cent less likely than men to know how to leverage information and communication technologies (ICT) for basic purposes, such as using simple arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet. Further along the skills spectrum, the divides grow wider. Men are around four times more likely than women to have advanced ICT skills such as the ability to programme computers According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, across G20 countries just 7% of ICT patents are generated by women.
According to the European Commission, women make only 21.1% of the total ICT specialists in Ireland, and are poorly represented in ICT studies in higher education. According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, women represent only 18.5% of all students in these fields at tertiary level, with these numbers on the decline since 2013. Without interventions to ensure equal participation, the divide will continue to grow and hinder the development of women leaders who can drive growth and innovation in the digital economy.
Based in Ireland, Teen-Turn promotes and supports girls’ engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and tech careers. The initiative provides disadvantaged girls an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with technology and to learn what it is like to be in a technology career-driven environment. Participating girls interact with STEM role models to encourage them to pursue coursework, post-secondary qualifications and technology jobs. Teen-Turn aims to influence course decisions, inform girls on education and career options, and combat stereotypes through mentored summer work placements, after school activities and alumnae programmes.
The initiative begins with work placement, during which girls learn about various projects, are introduced to role models and write blogs about their experience. In the next stage, the girls choose after-school activities, which include science projects, the creation of a social enterprise, app development for Technovation or homework clubs. Once girls have completed secondary school, they enter into the Teen-Turn alumnae network, which fosters meetings with peers and mentors, including women working in STEM fields and career advisors, to build a professional network.
Surveys are also taken prior to work placements and after-school programmes. Participating girls are encouraged to become mentors themselves and support self-directed learning in technology. Finally, Teen-Turn works with school representatives such as guidance counselors to identify girls with promise who lack the confidence or are challenged by home circumstances, learning difficulties or other obstacles that may prevent them from performing in school.
In 2017, Teen-Turn expanded nationally in Ireland from Dublin, Cork and Limerick to include Athlone, Galway/Mayo. In 2018, the programme was further spread to Longford and in 2019, activities began in Sligo and Carlow.
Teen-Turn’s results find that 80% of participating girls consider pursuing technology studies as part of their career path. More than 60% of girls return to tech career environments for further work experience and 50% take up STEM learning activities, including those related to coding and engineering.
As of Autumn 2018, every one of Teen-Turn’s pilot participants entered into tertiary education. For girls who reached the tertiary level, Teen-Turn continued outreach work to enable support networks in university STEM courses because of the high dropout rate of young women, in particular those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. By May 2019, over 350 girls were engaged in Teen-Turn programmes throughout Ireland, with the support of 150 women-in-STEM mentors, 18 Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) secondary schools and over 40 companies. Some 500 girls participated in Teen-Turn programmes in 2019.
Over the next three years, the project will continue to provide work placement, after-school activities, alumnae support at university level and career development opportunities. By 2022, an estimated 1,250 girls will be actively engaged in Teen-Turn activities, including studying in university technology courses and entering the technology workforce.
Of the 33,495 girls enrolled in DEIS secondary schools, less than half will pursue any post-secondary qualification. For those DEIS graduates who do progress, they are twice as likely to dropout of university than their classmates. Yet, more girls from areas where university level education is less common are learning and gaining an interest in STEM subjects.
Teen-Turn’s support network needs to be put into place from the start to see these girls through to job acquisition
It is important to provide an immersive technology experience that is followed up with reinforcement and recurring skills training and personal development
Results should be evaluated and measured throughout the programme, which also opens significant opportunities for longitudinal studies
It is essential to enable girls: to help them identify a tech area of interest and be supported in the pursuit of qualifications related to that interest, to provide the connections and social capital and ongoing reinforcement to develop a STEM career based on that interest
It is not enough to simply introduce STEM and stimulate girls with technological skills development
A difficult factor to overcome is staff turnover. Teen-Turn wants to influence employee retention rates by generating a tech talent pool from which to draw with ties to the neighboring communities
Teen-Turn has the potential to transform communities—increasing employment rates, entrepreneurship and quality of life for women from disadvantaged backgrounds—and provide a social and economic return to those who invest in it
An important component to Teen-Turn is that each girl interacts regularly with women-in-STEM mentors as learning in the presence of female role models has been shown to impact girls’ self-image and confidence, encouraging them to see themselves in new ways and stimulate new interests.
Carrigan, C. Teen-Turn taps into a neglected source of tech talent. Silicon Republic: 1 March 2019.
EQUALS Global Partnership. 2019. I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education. Paris: UNESCO.