STEM education: What young women think about it


According to a study by IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU), female students have reservations about STEM subjects or training - among other things, they lack female role models.

• 70 percent of female students surveyed have a personal interest in STEM subjects (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, technology). 

• However, more than 40 percent of the young women and girls feel overwhelmed with these topics or find the STEM field too difficult.

• Only a few of the respondents have female friends or female relatives who work in STEM professions. More than a third do not know anyone who is professionally involved in STEM.

Erfurt, 6 September 2022: According to the latest IW-STEM Autumn Report , the labour gap in the STEM sector has widened dramatically. The report explicitly calls for more women to be recruited for STEM. Why many schoolgirls decide against a STEM education path despite great interest is the subject of the current short study "STEM education. What young women think about it" by IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU). At the same time, the study shows possible solutions. The short study is a prelude to a comprehensive research project and the campaign "Women in Tech", with which IU wants to motivate female students to pursue an education in STEM subjects.

"Women are less likely than men to choose STEM fields of study or training. To do something about this, we have to start early in school - for example, through gender-sensitive teaching that addresses girls and boys equally. Above all, there is an urgent need for more female role models from the STEM sector to encourage young women. Because role models in the immediate environment, such as teachers and family members, but also from the business world, have a great influence on later study and career choices," says Alexandra Wuttig, Chancellor of IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU).

Excessive demands and lack of prior knowledge

Although 70 percent of the female students surveyed have a personal interest in STEM subjects and 81.8 percent are generally interested in studying, many young women have reservations when it comes to STEM studies or STEM training. 44.6 percent say the field is too difficult for them; 42.7 percent feel overwhelmed with STEM topics. In addition, many of the respondents feel that they lack the prior knowledge and skills for specific STEM subjects. For example, only 14 percent of the participants consider themselves sufficiently prepared in the field of technology and 16.2 percent in computer science. The only difference is in biology, where 41.2 per cent have prior knowledge.

Boring school lessons, financial hurdles

At school, curricula and teachers are perceived as less motivating by the female respondents. 44.9 percent often find STEM subjects at school dry and boring, and 34.8 percent find the content of STEM subjects too complicated. 42.4 percent feel that lessons on the subject tend to be boring.

Financial concerns also affect decisions around STEM studies or trainings. Almost one-fourth (24.3 percent) of the female students surveyed said that STEM studies would be too expensive because they could not pursue a part-time job due to the high workload. However, the opinion of those around them plays a comparatively minor role: only 16.1 percent worry about what their friends might think, 8.4 percent fear that their parents would not agree with their choice of study.

Lack of role models vs. orientation offers 

To the question "Do you know anyone who works in STEM?", more than a third of the respondents (34.1 percent) answered no. Only a few respondents have female friends or female relatives who work in STEM professions: 9.9 percent have a female friend, 8.2 percent stated their mother or grandma, and14.5 percent other female relatives. 

This could be remedied by providing orientation for career or study choices. 65 percent of the schoolgirls who have already completed internships or worked during the holidays find this useful. Almost as popular (62.3 percent) are discussions with friends, family, or mentors. Informational events such as job fairs, Girls'Day or themed days came in third with 45 percent. Digital information channels - especially Instagram, Facebook, TikTok - and company websites are similarly popular with 43.5 percent. 

IU launches campaign around the topic "Women in Tech"

To coincide with the study, IU is launching a campaign to encourage young girls and women to choose STEM fields. At its heart is the Young Women in STEM incubator run by a group of IU female professors who are also heavily involved in the study and developing it further. 

On 5 October, the six-part online series "Yes she can - Girls in IT " begins, aimed at schoolgirls from the tenth grade onwards. Here, female STEM professors at IU dive into the world of IT and the internet. In cooperation with Bitkom, IU is also realising the project "Frida" (Women in the Digital World of Work), in order to provide more visibility to women in IT professions. A series of short videos about IT women with role model character is planned. Last, but not least, the podcast "Einig Uneinig" will be dedicated to big questions around the topic of education - among others, also with reference to women and STEM careers - starting on 23 September.

About the study 
For the short study "STEM Education. What young women think about it" by IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU), which was published on 6 September, a total of 777 female students were surveyed. 83 percent of the respondents were aiming for Abitur or Fachabitur, 7.6 percent for Hochschulreife or Fachhochschulreife, and 9.3 percent for Realschulabschluss. The aim of the study was to ascertain the interest of female students in STEM subjects and training, the factors discouraging them from pursuing a STEM education and what factors favour a choice of study or career in the STEM field. 

The white paper on the study is available here.
Further information on the campaign can be found here.

Picture of the Speaker:

Prof. Dr. Alexandra Wuttig , Chancellor and Professor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU)

Female IU professors involved in the study:
•   Prof. Dr. Janki Dodiya, Professorship for Augmented/Virtual Reality and HCI
•   Prof. Dr. Cornelia Heinisch, Professorship for Computer Science
•   Prof. Dr. Claudia Heß, Professorship for Digital Transformation
•  Prof. Dr. Sibylle Kunz, Professorship for Media Informatics
•   Prof. Dr. Sandra Rebholz, Professorship for Software Development
•   Prof. Dr. Inga Schlömer, Program Management B.A. Digital Business, Professorship for Digital Transformation
•   Prof. Dr. Adrienne Steffen, Professorship for Business Administration
•   Prof. Dr. Silke Vaas, Professorship for Business Intelligence


With over 100,000 students, IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU) is the largest university in Germany. The private, state-recognised higher education institution offers more than 200 bachelor's and master's degree programmes under its roof, available in German or English. Students can shape their studies their way through the help of a digitally supported learning environment with various study models, such as dual study, distance learning and myStudies – which combines online and on-campus studies. In addition, IU facilitates continuing education and promotes the idea of lifelong learning. In alignment with the university’s mission, it aims to provide access to personalised education to as many people worldwide as possible. IU began operations in 2000 and is now represented in 28 German cities. It cooperates with over 15,000 companies and actively supports them in employee development. Its partners include Deutsche Bahn, Motel One, Telekom, Vodafone und VW Financial Services. Further information at: www.iu.org