Self-confidence and STEM career propensity: lessons from an all-girls secondary school

Alessandro Siani, Jasmine Harris

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Gendered barriers in education and attrition along the academic and professional pipeline are key determinants of the current STEM skills shortage. While enrolment in STEM undergraduate courses has been increasing in the recent decades, STEM degree choices still suffer from considerable gender imbalance, whereby women are underrepresented in maths-heavy subjects and overrepresented in biological and healthcare subjects. This study sought to investigate the relationship between maths/science self-confidence and propensity towards STEM careers during secondary education, a critical period in the university course decision-making process. Non-parametric analysis of cross-sectional survey data collected in an English all-girls secondary school revealed an overall decline in self-confidence over the 5 years of secondary education, which was statistically significant for science, but not maths. Self-confidence in maths showed a strong positive correlation with students’ propensity towards careers in maths and science, but not in technology/engineering. Likewise, self-confidence in science was positively correlated with maths and science propensity, but had no effect on technology/engineering propensity. These findings indicate that the teaching of maths and science is by itself not sufficient to promote engagement with STEM career pathways in engineering and technology. Secondary curricula should explicitly emphasise the links between the learning of mathematical and scientific concepts, their practical applications, and the career opportunities they enable.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20220180
Number of pages10
JournalOpen Education Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2023


  • STEM
  • gender bias
  • motivation
  • career aspirations
  • self-confidence

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