The chart above is from here via here and uses the metric of “feeling helpless” when confronted with a math problem. There are essentially only three countries in the world — Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — where girls are significantly ahead of boys in terms of dealing with math. In some industrialized nations, like the U.S., the percentage of girls who feel helpless with math (the orange bars) is lower, but boys are still outperforming them. This is especially relevant contextually right now, because many consider “big data jobs” to be the future of work, and those tend to involve math. (It should be noted that across OECD nations, girls outperform boys by 38 points on reading; that’s the equivalent of a full year of school, basically.)
This discussion about girls and STEM courses has been percolating for years, if not decades; the central issues seem to be lack of early exposure and then still-held assumptions about gender roles. Some high school students on that second link talk about going to robotics competitions, where the ratio is 9 guys to every 1 girl. (They also mention that having girls on a team tends to make the problem-solving more fluid.)
The White House has a whole page dedicated to this issue, as does The Huffington Post. The women of Congress are holding meetings on it, with some plainly saying that as they grew up, they thought they could only be secretaries, social workers, or teachers.
It’s possible that people like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer having big roles at big Silicon Valley companies could help, but it’s going to take years for this playing field to be equal. It does require earlier access, targeting under-represented groups, more hands-on learning experiences, yes; but it also requires a shift away from how we perceive the paths for girls and boys. This issue is evolving, but ultimately it does have roots in things as basic as pink toys and blue toys.
Remember this ad? Kinda awesome.