Although the past few years have shown a positive trend, the number of girls choosing for STEM in the Netherlands is much lower than the European average. An important reason for this is the lack of role models that girls can identify with. Girls often have a limited representation of the variety of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) professions and what it means to work in STEM. Therefore, activities for girls in secondary education mainly focus on bringing girls in contact with female role models. Spiegelbeeld, or ‘Mirror Image’ is VHTO’s online role model database, and contains more than 2000 female STEM professionals and students. Together with VHTO, they have one goal: to make more girls enthusiastic about a future in science, technology or IT!
VHTO’s role-models visit secondary schools at defining moments (i.e. before subject-cluster choice, and before choosing a higher education study program). Meetings with the role models are usually organised as ‘speed-dates’. In a speed-date session female STEM professionals talk with small groups of girls. They talk about their working life, about their aspirations and attainment. The aim is to show the variety and diversity of STEM professions and provide girls with an image they could identify with. The role models demonstrate that not only they are good at what they do in their work or study, but that they enjoy doing it! Many role models also participate in Girlsday.
The training programmes for teachers in secondary education focus on creating gender awareness among (science and math) teachers, on changing stereotyped ideas concerning gender and STEM, and on gender-inclusive science teaching and career guidance. The training explicitly covers topics such as girls’ self-confidence, stereotyped associations regarding gender & STEM, and the effect of communication (e.g., girls with an average grade are often advised not to go into science because it supposedly is too difficult for them, whereas boys with the same grade would be encouraged to go into science). Recently VHTO developed a lesson series in which girls practice with handling a growth mind set instead of a fixed mindset. Teachers learn how they can make their lessons more gender inclusive, how they can foster a growth mindset, and how they can create a positive image of career potential in STEM for girls. VHTO has developed a website with images (photos and films) and stories of male and female STEM professionals for this purpose. Teachers can use the website ‘This is what I do in STEM’ as a tool explore the possibilities of STEM together with their students (www.ditdoeik.nl).