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Where Are the Women in STEM?

Here we are in 2017. Seems a lot of things have regressed, including the progress of women in the workplace – or at least that’s true in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) disciplines. Not only are women paid less than men regardless of the field they’re in, but only about a quarter of STEM jobs are filled by women in the first place. There are a number of reasons as to why that is, and it can all be linked to the fact that we still live in a sexist society. The US Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration produced an eye-opening guide which highlights some of those gaps both in the workplace and in education. You can read that guide here (external link).

Everywhere you look, as a society, we still enforce gender stereotypes…girls should like pink and boys should like blue. Girls should play with dolls and kitchen sets, and be princesses while boys should play with legos, construction toys, and Marvel superheroes. Verizon made a great video highlighting how our easy it is to take a girl interested in Science and turn her into a girl who thinks Science is not for her, you saw it at the top of the article. As a parent, you should ask yourself, “Am I encouraging my daughter’s real passions?”. All too often we see brilliant children who are deeply and naturally interested in a subject lose their interest due to a lack of support from their closest family members. Besides encouragement, today’s kids need to be constantly presented with opportunities to hone their skills because there are so many distractions out there to pull them away.

And you might say, “Well I know a few of my female friends who went to college for engineering or biology, etc.” I also know quite a few women who went to college for sciences, but that does not mean we don’t have a problem. When I was in college I knew this female student who was majoring in a science and she talked about how the male students would not listen to her while they were doing a lab. The professor would not do anything about the issue. Women are just not taken seriously when it comes to STEM disciplines in school. The Department of Commerce guide I mentioned earlier shows significant gaps in women pursuing degrees in engineering disciplines. And worse, a girl entering college for a STEM field is 3 times less likely to actually complete that degree than her male counterpart1.

The road to a career in STEM for a woman is hard. First she deals with teasing as a child for not being as interested in Barbie dolls but instead building with legos, then the teasing comes back with entering a science fair at her elementary school, then again with entering the Robotics club at her high school, and then she will not be taken seriously at college in her classes mostly filled with boys. And when she finally has a job in the STEM, she is treated unfairly by her male colleagues. So how can we change that? How can we have more women go to school for STEM-related jobs?

Well, first we need to encourage girls from an early age that they can be anything they want when they grow up including a scientist, mathematician, or engineer. Let girls build with legos like the boys. But it has to be consistent all the way through college and throughout a woman’s career. Also, there cannot be any gender biases in college classrooms. A study at Yale University found that while reading resumes, professors would be less likely to hire a female assistant even though they had the same qualifications as the male applicants2. We also have to keep supporting organizations like The Franklin Foundation for Innovation, which has their WiSci and WiTech (Women in Science/Technology) programs aimed at improving immersion for younger girls and removing barriers for older ones, as well as their alliance partner LeanIn which is focused on improving access to STEM careers for women regardless of where they come from or “who they know”. Women who want to pursue a STEM career should get to have the same sense of community men enjoy, and not be intimidated by the high numbers of male students in their classrooms and in the workplace, and men in those positions have to work harder to embrace diversity and support people in their field regardless of their gender or any other factor. As the great Bill Nye said, “One-half of the humans are female, so one-half of the scientists should be female.”

1. US Department of Education – National Center for Education Statistics STEM Education whitepaper
2. US News Opinion Article on STEM Gender Gap & Universities

About the Author
Emma Majewski

Emma Majewski

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