Societal stereotypes about who participates in certain career fields or career preparation pathways send strong messages to girls that they don’t belong and are not welcome. This can stop them from taking the risk to explore nontraditional careers, such as advanced manufacturing, and can impact their self-efficacy regarding their ability to succeed in STEM careers. Even if girls are welcome to your programs and events, their perceptions of the societal stereotypes may stop them from volunteering, signing up, or taking other action to participate.
Sending a personal invitation to a female student to participate in an “invitation-only” activity can be the incentive she needs to overcome her doubts and ignite the spark to want to learn more about careers in advanced manufacturing. Send a personal invitation from an adult of prominence (Principal, Superintendent, Business Person) to a female student or an individual from another underrepresented population informing them that they are receiving a special invitation to participate in an outreach activity to explore careers in the exciting, creative, and high-tech field of advanced manufacturing. Personalize the invitation to highlight the student’s entrepreneurial spirit; strong creative thinking and problem-solving skills; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. Showcase the event as hands-on, low risk and exploratory. A team of STEM educators at Folsom Cordova Unified School District in California used this strategy to increase the participation of girls in Project Lead the Way. They were successful in increasing female enrollment in Introduction to Engineering Design from four to fourteen in one semester.
In addition to personalizing the invitation, getting the messaging right can have a big impact. People tend to value work in one of four ways. Boys tend to be more motivated by extrinsic work values, but girls are more often motivated by the other three work values. Make sure your messaging is aligned and balanced. Touting salaries and earning potential is a talking point, but you should balance out the talking points with messages that relate to the creative thinking professionals in the advanced manufacturing field use, how they work together collaboratively, and how they make the world a better place by caring about manufacturing products that make our lives better or easier.
Frequently educators will say that girls are just not interested in nontraditional career fields, like advanced manufacturing. Research has shown that girls will not show interest in a career field before they have had the opportunity to develop some confidence and skill, giving them the indicator that they could be successful and lowering their risk by participating. For women, self-confidence precedes interests and career goals. Therefore, it is even more important that girls have the opportunity to explore advanced manufacturing in low-risk environments that don’t require them to express interest before participating. Invite them personally and make them feel special. Don’t expect them to volunteer to participate.