The Absence of Women in Stem

Kodi Watkins

The Absence of Women in Stem

Every year humanity leaps another step forward in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Collectively known as STEM, these four areas of study are making the biggest advances in our world today. Solving things like global warming, biomedical breakthroughs and technological advances, these four areas of study are changing the world we live in today. With half the population being female, it is safe to say the female perspective plays an important role in our society. However, in today’s world, STEM careers remain mainly a boy’s club. Men dominate the fields of STEM and this creates a problem for our society. It is important that women grow in STEM career fields because women bring something to the table that men cannot, and that is a woman’s perspective. Understanding the size of the lack of women in STEM careers, what changes are being made, and why a woman’s perspective is important in STEM will give a deeper understanding of why it is important for women to grow in STEM careers.

The Few

It is important to remember, getting a STEM related career is no easy feat, and graduating with a STEM related degree isn’t something most students plan in one night. Because this is such an important decision, STEM education plays a big role in the success of ones STEM career. Understanding the educational choices of both women and men can give us a better understanding as to why there are significantly fewer women than men in STEM careers. First, we must identify the differences men and women have in STEM careers. According to data from the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS), women now make up half of all employed college graduates aged 25 or older. (Noonan, 2017, p. 8)

This data shows that there were roughly 25 million women and roughly 25 million men working with a bachelor’s degree. While this is a great feat for women, there were still only 3.4 million of the 25 million women accounting for college educated workers with a STEM related degree. Meanwhile, there are more than double that number with 7.9 million men working with a STEM related degree. Figure 1 gives a visual representation of the makeup of the 3.1 million women and 7.9 million college educated workers with a STEM related degree. While this figure shows the percentage of both women and men, it is important to recognize that the percentage for women is based off of 3.1 million, and the percentage for men is based off of 7.9 million.

Figure 1 This bar graph gives a visual representation of college-educated workers with a STEM degree by gender (Noonan, 2017, p. 8)

This figure may leave one to believe that the large percentage of women with a physical and life sciences degree clearly outnumbers men by 28%, however, because of the high number of men, women are outnumbered in all four STEM fields, especially in computer and engineering related degrees. Lastly, it is also important to gain a perspective of women versus men in all jobs compared to STEM jobs. While this is not meant to compare women to men in a derogative manner, it is meant to put into perspective just how large the gap is between the two in STEM careers. Accomplishing this perspective is available in Figure 2, as shown, men made up an astounding 76% of STEM jobs in 2015 while women shared only 24%.

Figure 2 This figure represents the gender shares of total and STEM jobs in 2015 (Noonan, 2017, p. 3)

While these numbers give us a better understanding of the lack of women in STEM, they don’t give us a reason as to why these numbers are as small as they are. Women are graduating high school equally to men, coincidentally women also share equal test scores in STEM subjects compared to men. If we are concluding that women have just as much of an opportunity to succeed in STEM careers than men, what is causing the gender gap we see in today’s STEM society?

Cultural barriers. Growing up, most boys and girls in the United States play with a wide range of toys. Have parents ever considered how much these toys have an influence on the future of their child? This isn’t to debunk the parents; however, it is still something parents should consider. As a child, most boys want construction toys like Legos or other similar building and constructing toys. On the other hand, girls generally want to be a princess or play with toy dolls and have a tea party. Before we continue we must recognize that there is nothing wrong with these preferences, however, the culture that these little boys and girls grow up in creates a world of the past. The toy isle for girls is filled with dolls and princess toys and that is fine, but there are no toys in the isle that focus on the mental growth of girls. Little girls are not developing problem solving skills that little boys are learning from playing with toys like Legos. The United States has developed a culture where girls must play with dolls and boys must play with Legos. Again, dolls and princesses are fine, but when parents don’t incorporate a kid friendly way of developing problem-solving skills and spatial skills with little girls, it greatly affects them later in life.

Growing up, most children also have role models, these role models play a big role in the interests, or lack thereof in their childhood. Boys generally have other male role models and girls generally have female role models. Unfortunately, the lack of women in STEM leads to a lack of female role models for young girls. As a result, this contributes to young girls having less interest in STEM careers. A study conducted by Microsoft concluded that girls begin to significantly lose interest in STEM at the age of 15. (Trotman, 2017)

According to Microsoft, “The girls cited a lack of female role models in STEM as a key reason they didn’t follow a career in the sector.”. (Trotman, 2017)

So, it is important that parents not only engage girls while they are less than 15, but as they grow older as well. This helps the girls keep an active and open mind in STEM related subjects. It is also important to engage girls in STEM fields through promoting role models and showing them that STEM can be fun at an older age, as this could potentially cut the gender gap in the future of STEM.

Engagement. Engaging girls in STEM as they are young seems to play a vital role in the future of women’s STEM growth. Thankfully, this task has already gained traction as companies like RaspberryPi, Code Club and Girls Who Code are going the extra mile to teach young girls STEM education. RaspberryPi has been working with Code Club with the aim of teaching children aged 9–13 coding skills. Code Club consists of volunteers and educators that aim to provide children the opportunity to develop coding skills through free, after school clubs. Although Code Club originated in the UK, the organization is making its way to the US and several other countries as well, with the goal of teaching boys and girls code all around the world.

RaspberryPi also works year-round on their own, hosting events around the world with the goal of teaching more children the power of computer science. The company’s website is built to be kid friendly and easy to navigate. This allows kids from a wide range of ages the ability to look online and learn right from home. The website consists of projects built for kids to learn STEM education, allowing the kids to expand their problem solving and spatial skills. It is also very important to recognize that the projects are all gender neutral and children have the ability to customize projects based on their own wants and needs. Nothing is set in stone, allowing for case by case customizability. This is important because it does not make girls feel singled out, or that they are doing something that is for boys. The RaspberryPi projects webpage is constantly being updated with new projects filled with step by step instructions, along with a forum community to help one another with any problems or ideas.

While RaspberryPi is partnering with Code Club, the company is also partnering with several other organizations as well. All of these companies aim to engage more children in STEM education. RaspberryPi is constantly looking for new opportunities to engage more children in STEM, with a monthly magazine subscription, YouTube videos, events around the world, and even offering in person training to allow for teachers to teach beginners code in the classroom.

Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organization with one simple task, to close the gender gap in technology. Girls Who Code is designed to teach girls about computer science and requires zero coding experience. According to the Girls Who Code 2016 annual report, the organization reached over 40,000 girls across the United States. This report also states that their alumni that have already declared their majors are choosing to major in computer science or related fields at a rate 15 times the national average. (“Girls Who Code: Annual Report 2016”)

While all of this is clearly amazing and such a historical uprising for women in STEM, what about the little girls who aren’t interested in coding? Not all little girls are interested in sitting at a computer and writing code, and younger children are not yet old enough to explore the world of coding. The truth is, we are still missing a large number of young girls, while the boys get Legos and construction toys. Well, all of this was true until an engineer from Stanford University discovered this problem on her own.


GoldieBlox

Debbie Sterling, the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox graduated from Stanford University and one thing stood out to her the most while she was in college. All of her engineering classes were filled with boys while she was just one of the handful of girls. After graduating, Debbie did her own research and discovered many of the issues discussed here. The gender gap in STEM is an issue, we need the woman’s perspective. After years of research Debbie decided to come up with her own toy. GoldieBlox aims to teach young girls problem solving, creative thinking, and several other STEM related skillsets through the use of the toys.

Since the launch of GoldieBlox in 2012, the company has released several toys along with a series of books about a female engineer who ‘invents her way through middle school’. (“Chapter Book Bundle (Ages 6–9)”) This series of books allows little girls to develop a female role model while also increasing creative thinking. On top of this, GoldieBlox has also created a YouTube channel dedicated to creating monthly videos for girls to explore the world of inventing new toys, crafts and fun gadgets. It is safe to say that GoldieBlox is making its way to the door steps of thousands of little girls all around the world. Allowing them to develop the skills that boys are getting through Legos and construction toys.

Conclusion

Although there is still a lack of women in STEM career fields, we can only encourage little girls all around the world to make the difference, after all they are the future generation. While this stands as an issue in our world today, we have discovered why there are so few girls in STEM. Companies all around the world are participating in taking action to close the gap between men and women. GoldieBlox is setting a new standard for toys pushing other manufactures to think outside of the normal princess and toy doll era. This is just the beginning of a revolution for women in STEM careers. There is nothing wrong with men being in STEM career fields, but women bring something to the table that men can’t and that is the female perspective.

References

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://projects.raspberrypi.org/en

About GoldieBlox | Meet Debbie Sterling — GoldieBlox founder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goldieblox.com/pages/about

Chapter Book Bundle (Ages 6–9). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goldieblox.com/collections/chapter-books/products/chapter-book-bundle-ages-6-9

Code Club Home Page. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.codeclub.org.uk/

Girls Who Code: Annual Report 2016. (2017, January). Retrieved from https://girlswhocode.com/2016report/

G. (n.d.). GoldieBlox. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/goldieblox

Noonan, R. (2017, November 13). [PDF]. Washington DC: Economics and Statistics Administration. Retrieved from http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/women-in-stem-2017-update.pdf

Trotman, A. (2017, March 01). Why don’t European girls like science or technology? — Microsoft News Centre Europe. Retrieved from https://news.microsoft.com/europe/features/dont-european-girls-like-science-technology/#sm.0000a046evm91crtzzd15dbmak88g#O0g4dh2732ZlhJdB.97