Despite substantial improvement over the past half decade, the gender pay gap still persists in the U.S. When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Fifty years later, in 2014, women earned 81 cents on the male dollar. One area on which educators and policymakers have focused to rectify the gender pay differential is encouraging young girls to go into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women account for half of the workforce in the U.S., but they are employed in less than 25 percent of STEM positions. Women in STEM fields earn 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM occupations, but women hold far fewer STEM undergraduate degrees than men, especially in engineering. And, perplexingly, even women with a STEM degree seem less inclined to work in STEM jobs; they are more likely than STEM-educated men to choose education or healthcare. The main explanations for these discrepancies include lack of female role models, discrimination against females at school and in the work place, and gender stereotypes (Hill et al. 2010).
Informal STEM programs offer one potential means of improving female participation in these fields, with the “informal” meaning that the learning occurs in an out-of-school environment (Krishnamurthi and Rennie 2013). A program called Girls Inc. Operation SMART, for example, runs an initiative called Eureka!, which seeks to provide eighth grade girls with internship opportunities in math, science, and technology. The organization Techbridge offers Girls Go Techbridge, which holds learning activities, and a role model training program, which connects girls with volunteers who are passionate about motivating them to get involved in science, technology and engineering. Other initiatives include the National Science Partnership for Girl Scouts and Science Museums (NSP), Women in Natural Sciences (WINS), and Rural Girls in Science.