With all the energy we put into developing young girls’ interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), there’s another depressing factor to consider: Women who pursue STEM in college are actually dropping out of the subjects at an alarming rate.
There are countless reasons why this could be happening, but a comprehensive study about why women leave careers in tech (aptly called “The Elephant in the Valley“) indicates that discrimination and sexual harassment are leading factors.
Let’s call a spade a spade: This is terrible news. But luckily, a new study’s promising results indicate that there’s a way to keep engineering students from dropping out of their majors: Mentorship.
Not just any mentorship, however. In order to keep women from leaving STEM, their mentors need to be other women.
Implementing field-tested interventions of their own, the University of Massachusetts researchers studied 150 female engineering majors beginning their freshman year of college. The researchers assigned a portion of the women female mentors, male mentors, and no mentors at all.
Fast forward to the end of the year. Of those who were assigned male mentors, 18 percent switched majors or dropped out of school entirely. Of those with no mentors at all, 11 percent dropped out.
Yes, that means for female engineering students, having a male mentor is statistically worse than having no mentor at all. Ouch.
But guess what? Of the students mentored by other women, NO STUDENTS DROPPED OUT. You read that right. None. Nada. Zero.
“Women in engineering who were assigned a female (but not male) peer mentor experienced more belonging, motivation, and confidence in engineering, better retention in engineering majors, and greater engineering career aspirations,” wrote the study authors. “Female mentors promoted aspirations to pursue engineering careers by protecting women’s belonging and confidence.”
If you are a woman thinking of pursuing STEM, we implore you to do so! While you’re at it, seek out mentors and friends from all the fellow females you can. We’re in this together.