Even though there is substantive evidence showing that the overall intelligence between men and women does not differ, women’s representation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), particularly in Africa remains poor. Women’s poor participation in STEM is a serious problem that requires special attention to help reduce the gender gap in STEM-related fields.

It is no secret that gender plays an important role in the African cultural context. The lack of more females in STEM compared to males is a result of gender socialization, where males are incentivized for performing well in STEM-related subjects and women are pushed to perform well in other subject areas through incentivization. 

Females face more societal barriers that limit them from participating in a number of professions, especially in the STEM field. This practice begins very early in life where there are many stereotypes associated with STEM professions. 

As early as adolescence, there are already influences regarding what is gender appropriate. Society creates an environment that will naturally advance men in fields related to STEM while communicating to women that their abilities are not enough to go into these professions, ultimately diminish young girl’s interests in STEM fields. Parents also contribute to this socialization process by influencing the child’s future prospects. These societal influences later determine the numbers of females who get into STEM. 

Even though sometimes done unconsciously, stereotypes in many African societies make females look weaker than their male counterparts. Sadly, these stereotypes create an impression and the idea that males are exceptionally better in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering than their female counterparts are. 

This, therefore, creates a huge gender gap, which is a direct response to stereotypes and socialization. This gender gap can, however, be bridged by using mentoring as a key strategy in getting girls into STEM, empowering them and helping them excel in STEM. 

Mentorship in STEM exposes young girls to strong role models in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. This is one way of making these disciplines attractive and attainable. It also helps to inspire young girls to participate and essentially helps to close the gender gap. 

Even though having women mentoring young girls would have more impact, it is essential that every person is seen as an active participant regardless of their gender. This show of support from both men and women towards young girl’s participation in STEM addresses gender biases. It is therefore imperative that both male and female parents, teachers and administrators are seen to be actively participating in mentorship in order to reduce gender disparity in the STEM. 

 Having mentors guide and support females at home, and in schools will help them develop a positive mindset and attitude for wanting to pursue a career in the STEM field. At home, mentoring can be informal - giving equal opportunities to boys and girls in roles at the household level. Assigning duties to both girls and boys equally without forcing gender roles. At school, from primary school through to the university level, mentoring can be formal through structured programs in which mentors and mentees are carefully selected and matched through a formal process. 

It is important to ensure that the mentors in the formal settings are well trained so that they are able to provide constructive inputs that highlight strengths and areas for improvement for the mentee. Mentors need to be proactive and look for any possible opportunity to have one-on-one meetings, networking sessions, and small group workshops. 

Mentoring young girls in STEM must focus on including mathematics, which forms the basis of most science and engineering disciplines. It should also incorporate opportunities for research and teaching in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical field. Most importantly it should be integrated into the education policies of all African countries. 

 

Tonjock Rosemary Kinge (PhD)

Associate Professor of Mycology

Department of Biological Sciences

Faculty of Science, the University of Bamenda, Cameroon

 

ASLP Fellow 5.1