Stem careers aren't just for guys

At a coding camp organised by charity 21C Girls and credit card firm Visa, girls acquire the basics relevant to a career in the tech industry. Charity founder Ayesha Khanna says she wants to build an environment where girls can discover how coding wi
At a coding camp organised by charity 21C Girls and credit card firm Visa, girls acquire the basics relevant to a career in the tech industry. Charity founder Ayesha Khanna says she wants to build an environment where girls can discover how coding will enable them to confidently pursue anything they want.ST PHOTO: DAVID TAY

Perception of gender bias among reasons why girls avoid jobs in science and tech

Teenage girls in Singapore may not choose jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) despite studying the relevant subjects, a study has found.

This is in spite of some encouraging statistics and real-life inspirations. For example, more than 70 per cent of female fresh graduates with Stem degrees landed their first jobs within six months of graduation, according to the second edition of a MasterCard study called Girls In Tech.

More than 2,000 girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25 were interviewed last December. They hailed from six countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the study, those who landed jobs perceived longevity in their careers and believed that it would open doors to higher-paying jobs.

But girls between the ages of 12 and 19 cited lack of interest, difficulty and gender bias as deterrents to entering Stem fields.

MISCONCEPTION

I would like to encourage adults not to tell girls this and also to encourage young girls - don't be swayed by what other people say. If you are interested in something, go for it.

NEE SOON GRC MP LEE BEE WAH, on the myth that girls are not as good as boys when it comes to Stem subjects.

Almost half of the respondents believe that girls like themselves are less likely to choose such careers because of the perception that Stem jobs are male-dominated.

MasterCard country manager Singapore Deborah Heng said the results highlight deeply held misconceptions by girls and young women.

"They still believe it is a man's world in Stem and that the path is difficult," she said.

In Dr Cheong Yu Jing's case, her teachers helped pave her way to a career as a researcher at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

"Throughout my years of education, my teachers encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to. I never really felt like I should avoid the sciences," said Dr Cheong, 35.

She also noted that as a biomedical researcher, her workplace has more women than men.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, a civil engineer by training, said stereotypes of Stem careers may remain because of the myth that girls are not as good as boys when it comes to Stem subjects. She said: "I would like to encourage adults not to tell girls this and also to encourage young girls - don't be swayed by what other people say. If you are interested in something, go for it.

"The experience of many women engineers like (Temasek Holdings chief executive) Madam Ho Ching, (former Sembcorp executive chairman) Ms Low Sin Leng and myself, proves that women are as good at Stem as men, and can make good careers for themselves in related fields."

Ms Ayesha Khanna, CEO of data science and artificial intelligence firm Addo, wants to encourage more girls to embrace technology, especially with a foundation in computing. That is why she set up 21C Girls, a charity that teaches coding to girls.

Said Ms Khanna: "Technology is becoming a huge part of life. I want to build an environment where girls can discover how coding will enable them to confidently pursue anything they want."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Stem careers aren't just for guys'. Print Edition | Subscribe