Photo by Alena Darmel:

by Sargun Singh

Think Before You Speak - Why Our Choice of Words Matters When Getting Girls into STEM

What makes a good innovator? Some may argue that it is simply anyone with a genuine interest in making discoveries and applying them to improving human lives. However, why are the majority of workers in engineering and technology fields men? And, how can we encourage more women to join these sectors? One way of doing so would be by helping young female students understand STEM fields better and by encouraging their interest. When describing these fields to girls, it is important to use more inclusive terminology and avoid language that is intimidating or discouraging. To further understand this matter, I conducted an informal survey with a group of high school girls in Fremont, California with an interest in various STEM disciplines. When asked if they had an interest in engineering solutions to medical problems, all said they were not interested. When asked why, one said, “I just don’t think I’m smart enough for that.” Then, the same girls were asked if they would like to be a part of creating the cure of a health problem, and they all agreed. These two questions were actually the same but worded differently. Terms like “engineering” sound too technical and intimidating in comparison to words like “create.” So why do young women get intimidated by technical terminology? Growing up hearing stereotypes and sometimes hurtful comments from male peers contributes to this. According to the Washington Post, much of the gender gap in the engineering field is the result of gender biases against female engineers and engineering students. This causes many girls, though talented and mathematically inclined, to avoid STEM career paths. Therefore, using more general terms would lead to them seeing that this industry involves nothing they are incapable of pursuing. 

Overall, in order to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM, we must do so using fewer technical terms to describe them. This method can be applied to people of all underrepresented backgrounds and identities and bridge the gaps in the field. This way, future innovators will be more diverse and their new ideas will be more versatile.