The Need for more Women in STEM Fields
The general stereotype people had was that girls play with dolls and everything about the kitchen while boys play cars and video games. It seems like from the young age the path has been draw of what each gender will choose. However, women today decided that the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM, are no longer a men’s club. One cannot ignore the truth that there is a significant difference in salary between men and women in these areas and that there is a small number of women in these sectors. In the light of many factors leading to the limited number of women in STEM fields and the decrease in their interest in the fields, such problem affects the growth of these fields immensely, and there are many solutions that would help address such issue to be discussed in this essay.
The Atlantic magazine published a report by Olga Khazan on the most recent study on the relationship between the economic growth and gender equality. It also studied the level of which young females have a demand for careers in science, sports, technology and engineering. The study reveals a curious paradox: Women in countries that seek to empower women and achieve gender equality have lower rates of choice for professions associated with mathematics and science (Khazan, 2018)
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According to Khazan, the study showed although there is an increase in the number of students enrolled in advanced computer science programs – offered by colleges to the academically advanced students in high schools- the percentage of girls in America was only 27% of the total students. Further gap showed between genders: only 18% of earned college degrees in Computer Science in America. These numbers may seem particularly shocking in America, where many men describe themselves as “feminist” and where girls are raised as capable of accomplishing anything they want.
Furthermore, statistics have shown that college female students who had a plan to pursue a STEM major when entering college, often do not persist in these majors as much male students do. Using data from National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, Amanda Griffith explained that the reason behind this regression in persistence is significantly related to the previous preparation and educational experiences women are exposed to in their school years, and women’s background was often oriented towards the non-STEM fields in high rates (Griffith, 2010)
On the other hand, Sarbani Banerjee’s finding in the study he conducted through a survey for students taking a computer science class as elective show that most of the perceptions that everyone would presume women have about being in the field of computer science are not valid. Females did not see the fields of computer science as specific for men, or people who work in the field as “geeky” (Banerjee & Santa Maria, 2013), nor the fact that men are better suited for careers in technology. The survey showed that females believed technology “is isolated to a particular subject”, hindering them from seeing “how fluidly technology is threaded through all STEM areas” (Banerjee & Santa Maria, 2013).
So why is this a problem? Looking at the facts, it seems that the sociocultural influence, the educational policies and frameworks, as well as the psychosocial influences that have shaped men towards the STEM fields more than females. Consequently, this leads to the Sustainable Development Goals not to play their roles appropriately in ensuring equal access to higher education for women and men alike (UNESCO, 2016). Women are often drawn away from the STEM fields because of the perception that such highly advanced fields are going to be hard on them. This mentality, even though not explicit today, sure was the way women were looked at in the history, and the residue is still persistent till this day.
Furthermore, data have shown that men are being affected by the domination of males in the STEM field as much as women. Such phenomena, even though puts men sometimes in better career positions than women with the same qualifications, but also makes them carry a heavy load and work more responsibilities. Men are always perceived to be able to work in heavy work environments regardless of their own personal needs (Boutilier). Looking at these facts, trigger the thought of how important it is for men to work towards solving this issue as well. Promoting for gender equality in work fields and their daughters, sisters, and even wives to go into the STEM fields would help solve this problem for both men and women’s sakes.
Anne Marie Petersen, from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studied the different experience that influence women into pursuing STEM fields. In her dissertation she explained how there are “formal and informal pipelines” that are involved in the K-12 educations which both play a huge role in building self-esteem, the strong bases, and the interest in the STEM fields. Among the formal ones is the “instructional support” (Petersen, 2014) and the “course pathways” that play a huge role in preparing students for the future career goals. (Peterson, 2014). The informal ones speak of the different kinds of support and motivation the student receives from their parents and their teachers. In her study, she found that women who graduated with a STEM degree often experienced encouragement from their teachers in Math or science classes, not to mention involving them in different extracurricular activities within the field. Such actions by the teacher, along with making the curriculum as inclusive of STEM subjects as possible for all students, allowed early exposure and blooming of interest in these women at a young age. Parents play a huge role in driving their kids to go into a certain educational orientation, and the more parents fought the stereotypes of gender-biased fields, the more women were inclined to go into the scientific fields.
Hence, to address this issue properly, one has to start with the main trigger for the inclination of females away from STEM, which is education. According to Aruguia Peixoto in her article “Girls In STEM: Increasing the Number of Female Students Entering Technical Fields”, making sure that females are encouraged to pursue these majors in their early years as well as showing them on different occasions that they are capable of doing whatever they want and becoming whatever they dream of. Incorporating technology in this motivation procedure is essential, for using “Computer Graphics” and “Virtual Realities” as educational tools shows females that STEM fields are highly interesting and challenging (Peixoto, 2016)
Looking from the career perspective, Sarah Hoffman and Hershey Friedman found in their study in 2018 that women would tend to enter the fields of STEM if they were educated about how “Meaningful” (Hoffman & Friedman, 2018) their job is. Today, technology is being the primary developing resource and tool in many fields, including but not exclusive to: health care, education, military, and environmental studies. Hence, when guiding students into their future careers, it is important to point out how “an unbelievably versatile major” computer science is. Showing how technology is now immersed in every field, even music and psychology, women as well as all students will be more prone to find their “meaningful job” in it (Hoffman & Friedman, 2018).
Nicole Robinson (2015) on the other hand, in her article “Closing the Gender Gap”, did not see that the focus should be on increasing the number of females in STEM, but increasing the number in total. She described how the new generation is become more illiterate when it comes to Math and Science, and the only solution would be increasing the interest in STEM field in all the children in all genders. She sees that if the interest is grown and tunneling is given as an option, the number of people working in the STEM field, and thus the number of women in the STEM field will increase as a given result.
Some of the solutions suggest by Dr. Catherine Hill from the AAUW rely heavily on ways to make Science and Engineering interesting for them. Speaking of successful women in the fields as well as the different intelligence skills that women have will help fight the stereotypical bias. “Promoting a growth-mindset environment” is the first step towards “helping girls recognize their career- relevant skills” (Hill, 2018). Furthermore, it is important to making college environments supportive for all students and especially women looking into pursuing STEM fields. Women faculty also need to be supported, by respecting their life styles through acts like “stopping-tenure-clock policies and on-site child care” (Hill, 2018). In brief, offering women more incentives that allow them to not have to make the choice between being mothers or caregivers as well as offering them the value of who they are, can shift the scales. Acts like increasing maternity leaves and offering equal opportunities for men and women can help reduce this phenomenon. “We absolutely need women’s ideas, their smarts, their voices. We get better results. When you include women, they may ask different questions, use different methodologies, and they may get results that benefit everyone.” Canada’s Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan suggested showed how offering women leadership roles helps change perspectives and advocate for the principle (Mortillaro, 2018).
Pennsylvania State University in Erie is working every year on solving this issue. In a program developed on campus, seventh and eighth grade girls are invited to spend what they called “Math Options Career Day”. In the purpose of encouraging these young girls to pursue a future career in STEM, and thus starting to work on their college choices early on, the girls are allowed to participate in different scientific experiments and engineering experiences under the supervision and guidance of Penn State faculty and professionals. Such act allowed for the rate of enrollment of women in the School Engineering to increase by 68% within 6 years (Women in Academia Report). A simple act of education made a huge leap in the future of many women.
To sum up, society is facing a need for an increase in women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in both educational fields as well as leadership roles. The current representation is low and limited and seems to be regressing year by year if action is not taken. Stereotypes based on gender and biased attitudes undermining their quality and choice of education along other reasons, tend women to avoid working in these fields. And as solutions for this issue, this essay offered a discussion of the importance of educational awareness to the role women play in STEM fields, not to mention the vast effect putting women in scientific leadership positions as well as a supportive working and learning environment can have on the faux perception the world is having about STEM fields being more suitable for men than women.
- Banerjee, S., & Santa Maria, R. (2013). A Study of Students’ Perception of Computer Education: Lack of Interest in STEM Fields for Female Students. The International Journal Of Technology, Knowledge, And Society, 8(4), 93-106. doi: 10.18848/1832-3669/cgp/v08i04/56316
- Boutilier, S. Gender Inequality in Stem Fields And Beyond: The Case For Engaging Men And Boys. NewYork:Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.
- Griffith, A. (2010). Persistence of women and minorities in STEM field majors: Is it the school that matters?. Economics Of Education Review, 29(6), 911-922. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2010.06.010
- Hill, C. (2018). Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Retrieved from https://www.aauw.org/research/why-so-few/
- Hoffman, S. F., & Friedman, H. H. (2018). MACHINE LEARNING AND MEANINGFUL CAREERS: INCREASING THE NUMBER OF WOMEN IN STEM. Journal of Research in Gender Studies, 8(1), 11-27. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.22381/JRGS8120181
- Khazan, O. (2018). The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/02/the-more-gender-equality-the-fewer-women-in-stem/553592/
- Mortillaro, N. (2018). Women encouraged to pursue STEM careers, but many not staying. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/women-in-stem-1.4564384
- Peixoto, A. (2016). Girls in STEM: Increasing the Number of Female Students Entering Technical Fields. Proceeding SA ’16 SIGGRAPH ASIA 2016 Symposium On Education: Talks, (Article No. 9).
- Penn State Erie program aims to increase the number of women in STEM fields. (2012). Bartonsville: BruCon Publishing Company. Retrieved from GenderWatch
- Petersen, A. M. (2014). Females and STEM: Determining the K-12 experiences that influenced women to pursue STEM fields (Order No. 3582030). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1655479133). Retrieved from http://cmich.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1655479133?accountid=10181
- Robinson, N. (2015). CLOSING THE GENDER GAP. Tunnels & Tunnelling International,3. UNESCO Asia-Pacific Education Thematic Brief. (2016). Closing the gender gap in STEM: drawing more girls and women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Bangkok.