Source: Girl Guides

How Girl Guides are Closing the Gender Gap in STEM

July 14, 2021

Written by: Vanessa Hennessey

If you're anything like me, you may not have a very clear idea of what it means to be part of Girl Guides. Growing up, I had friends and family members who took part in the American equivalent, the Girl Scouts, and I thought it consisted of camping, doing arts and crafts, and earning badges that didn't really mean anything. As it turns out, it is a program that actually can teach girls much-needed skills for survival, self reliance, independence, and can even help bridge the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

To give some history and context, in 1909, girls in England demanded to take part in a Boy Scouts rally organized by Lord Baden-Powell at the Crystal Palace in London. Baden-Powell was impressed and he asked his sister, Agnes, to create a program just for girls. This was the beginning of Guiding. By 1910, the Guiding Movement had reached Canada and the first Unit was formed in St. Catharine's, Ontario. By 1912, there were units in every province and many of Canada's most forward-thinking women banded together to form the Canadian Girl Guides Association. You can read more about this at their official website

Source: Girl Guides

These days, the Girl Guides organization now has around 100,000 members across Canada. Members are aged 5-17 and adults can become volunteers for the organization. Members take part in many activities, including camping outdoors, visiting community landmarks to learn about them, volunteering for organizations in their local communities, meeting local women who run businesses, learning how to survive outdoors by learning skills such as knot tying, using stoves and lanterns, and knife safety; and participating in programs that relate to single activities or themes, such as camping, sports, travel, or the arts. During their time in Girl Guides, participants earn badges and celebrate their achievements. There are 8 badge categories: Guide Together, Into the Outdoors, Build Skills, Explore Identities, Experiment and Create, Be Well, Connect and Question, and Take Action. 

Source: Girl Guides

But how do these activities and badges help girls become more interested in the STEM fields and thereby shrink the gender gap in those fields? The United States' version, Girl Scouts, has created STEM Career Exploration and Automotive Engineering badges specifically with the purpose of creating more interest in STEM fields among girls. Canada's Girl Guides organization has also created badges with this specific purpose. The badges that are available to girls who participate are earned by exploring nature, learning new life skills, learning about feminism, conducting science and engineering experiments, and exploring big-picture ideas. For example, in the "Connect and Question" category, participants can earn "World Stage" badges by "getting to know" innovators from around the world. In the "Experiment and Create" category, badges that can be earned include "Science Lab" by designing experiments and testing hypotheses; or they can earn badges in the "Design Space" subcategory by tinkering with machines, building robots, or coding programs. And, in the "Into the Outdoors" category, badges include the "Nature Discoveries" and "Our Shared Planet" badges, which are earned by experimenting to learn the forces of nature and observing the environment and sharing data with scientists. Engineers Canada has also created an Engineering crest for Girl Guides, which Girl Guides can earn by completing an activity that helps them understand how engineering plays an integral role in their daily lives.

The Girl Scouts organization in the United States writes on their blog that, "Girl Scouts are almost twice as likely as non–Girl Scouts to participate in STEM activities (60 percent versus 35 percent), and 77 percent of girls say that because of Girl Scouts, they’re considering a career in technology." Girl Guides here in Canada also offer a program entitled "Girls in STEM," which allows members aged 5-17 to "experiment, design, create and imagine as they explore the infinite possibilities of what they can achieve in the world of science, technology, engineering and math." Through conducting experiments, exploring electronics, and even learning about animation, they can earn the badges listed above. (For more information about what it's like to be a STEM Girl Guide leader, listen to our podcast episode with Anne Simonen, Civil Engineering Technologist!)

Studies and surveys show that girls lose interest in STEM at early ages in school, but outreach programs outside of school (such as our friends at Science AL!VELet's Talk Science, Geering Up, and many more), as well as programs such as Girl Guides, can help girls keep an interest in STEM as they grow older and can indeed help narrow the gender gap in STEM. In fact, Girl Guides has published their own report about the pathways to keeping girls in STEM and how to keep all the options open for all girls. Girls Guides are helping to create a safe space in which girls can explore and build skills that help them confidently navigate the world.

Check out our Best of the WWEST podcast episode with Anne Simonen, Civil Engineering Technologist, who is also a Girl Guide leader.