Jul 20, 2018

The glass ceiling is still a very real phenomenon in the Philippines. You might not notice it at first because the playing field seems equal on the entry level. However, as you climb up the ladder, women start tapering off. The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) industry is no different.

“Globally, only 30 percent of the STEM workforce are women and as we get to senior leadership roles, we see fewer and fewer women,” says Love Basillote, executive director of Philippine Business for Education (PBed).

Ever wondered why there are so many female doctors, but the medical board is still mostly comprised of men? This is why.

nolisoli culture #STEMPower our girls stem courses gender parity Philippines girls department of education investing in women Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

No enabling environment for young girls

It doesn’t help that in the first place, women are already normalized into thinking that STEM isn’t for them at a young age. Science and math are traditionally seen as boy-subjects, and a lot of girls are pushed into liking the more “feminine” subjects, like languages and home economics. This kind of thinking is bred in both school and in their homes, and it creates an identity mismatch in some girls: they like STEM but they shouldn’t because it’s not for girls.

Another factor that drives away girls from STEM is that they are conditioned towards learned helplessness when it comes to science and mathematics. A 1984 study found that lot of girls tend to blame their own ability and skills whenever they make a mistake in math. In other words, girls are more likely to say, “Oh, I got this math problem wrong because I’m bad at math,” even when the mistake they made is a totally common one that even others proficient in math would commit. This can lead to feeling inadequate when doing math problems, and a girl who thinks that she can’t handle doing math (even when she really can) isn’t going to pursue a STEM course.

Gender parity in the workforce

Why should we care about this? Just on a workforce level, the Philippines, in general, has very few people in STEM. We’ve got more lawyers than we do scientists. Deborah France-Massin, director of the Bureau for Employers’ Activities, in her column at the International Labour Organization’s website said, “STEM take-up in the Philippines is lower than the ASEAN average for both men and women. Enrollment in STEM courses among Filipino men is at 18 percent, while for Filipino women it sits at 10 percent.” More women in STEM means more people in STEM, period.

In fact, if there was gender parity and more women were to have active economic roles, by 2025, the country’s GDP could stand to grow by 7 percent, notes Basillote, citing a recent McKinsey study. “We stand to lose 40 billion dollars every year due to lack of gender parity, she adds.

nolisoli culture stempower our girls stem courses gender parity Philippines girls department of education investing in women Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

#STEMPower Our Girls

Luckily, this new program by PBed is trying to change that. In collaboration with communications firm Evident Communications, PBed is launching #STEMPower Our Girls, a campaign that aims to drive up interest in STEM among young girls. The program will train 120 female sixth-grade students from Metro Manila, Cebu, and Cagayan de Oro (40 per area) via various activities, like STEM-related aptitude and attitude workshops. There will be accompanying partner forums to let their communities be aware of this and also understand the need to promote women in STEM.

#STEMPower Our Girls will also be conducting talks by female industry leaders and other successful women in STEM, which will be open to all people. This is to show girls that women can do STEM and be successful in it, as PBed believes that part of the problem is that girls don’t have female STEM role models. Even though Filipinas are out there winning awards and taking charge, they’re sadly still not that visible. Hopefully, the talks will finally give young girls someone to look up to.

Career caravans will be there to let the girls know about the many, many options they can take with STEM. There’s not just one way to do STEM, after all. It’ll also help girls and their parents know that STEM can actually be very lucrative, as a lot of parents dissuade their children from taking STEM, thinking that they won’t have any viable economic opportunities in the future.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Evident Communications will also take an active role in drumming up interest online by creating “compelling content on social media and digital platforms to inspire young girls,” says Evident Communications CEO Cecile Dominguez-Yujuico. Now that the world is increasingly going online, most girls build their communities through social media, and reaching out to these communities will not only drive interest in STEM, but also lead these girls to support and encourage each other.

PBed believes that the program, which is aided by Unilab, DepEd, and Investing in Women, will create a multiplier effect, and that interest in STEM will ripple through their communities. The success of the first batch will depend on how many of these girls will apply to science high schools and/or take science tracks later on, but ultimately, #STEMPower our Girls’s goal is to reach beyond the original 120 girls and create an enabling environment where girls in STEM is normalized, encouraging them to pursue it.

Take note of these dates

The partnership forums will be on Aug. 7 for Manila, Aug. 28 for Cebu, and Sept. 12 for Cagayan de Oro. The recruitment period for all places will start from Aug. 2 to Sept. 26, and the workshops will take place from October to December for the Manila girls and November to January for the Cebu and CDO girls.

Industry talks and career caravans will be on Sept. 26 in Manila, Oct. 10 for Cebu, and Oct. 24 for Cagayan de Oro.

Let’s raise the roof and break this glass ceiling.

Featured photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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TAGS: culture female empowerment launch mathematics nolisoliph science stem stempower our girls women in stem