Women in STEM

“Wow I can’t believe you’re in that major. It must be hard!” is what I hear every time anyone asks me what my major is. They can’t believe a girl like me is an engineering major. Why are people so shocked about this? They shouldn’t be. More women should be majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM. And we as a country are not doing enough to increase the number of women pursuing these degrees.

Women have always been a minority in the STEM field. The key problem to this issue is we are not educating women about STEM and the benefits of working in the fields of science and technology. The education system is not taking a proactive approach in engaging children in hands-on activities and curriculum's based on a STEM focus. Girls interests in STEM subjects begins to fade right after middle school and after that society doesn’t do anything to encourage and inspire women to keep building their confidence in their ability to do math and science. Women represent a broad pool of potential STEM talent and by not educating women to become STEM majors we won’t have as many women in the workforce handling important jobs for our country. Assigning mentors and educating young girls about STEM will change how girls perceive STEM and want to pursue that as a future job. Keeping woman interested in the sciences as they go throughout elementary school and middle school will provide students with the motivation to take science classes in high school and college to further their development.

In early adolescence, gender differences emerge, with boys engaging more than girls in science-related extracurricular activities. Young girls like myself always tend to play with dolls and anything associated with the words “girly” growing up. In elementary school girls are taught about history, math, science, and English-the basics of any childhood education-, but that is how far it goes. There is no extracurricular science education. Karen Purcell from Edutopia says, Correcting the negative perceptions that girls develop at a young age can, however, lead them to embrace math and science when they reach high school, rather than avoid the subjects. It has become the social norm for girls to not take high level science or math classes and take non-science related classes.

In high school there is no involvement from teachers to motivate women to take science classes. Administrators and educators must strive to create environments in high school and college math and science programs that are inviting to females if we want to prevent the likelihood of their choosing a different direction. Every year women are graduating from college with degrees in many fields, but they are still in the minority in STEM. In the article, There is no need for more women in STEM, Paul Elam says, They want more women in STEM because the historically consistent lopsided numbers of men to women in STEM make it appear that women are either A) not generally as apt as men in hard sciences or B) not near as interested as men in hard sciences. I can acknowledge that some people may believe that but that is not the reason why more women aren’t in STEM. For decades we have seen men dominate the STEM field and limit opportunities for women. Many women decide they don’t want a career in science or math. This diminished talent pool hurts the prosperity and development of our country, and as a consequence, the earning power of women in the US.

Data about degrees earned by women Credit: Denise Cummins

We need to start by breaking down social barriers. Parents should get girls engaged in the STEM field early. Having girls play with computer toys and learning the science behind it would fascinate them. An observational study of children’s engagement at an interactive science museum found that …parents were three times more likely to explain scientific concepts to boys rather than girls. Parents need to understand that gender shouldn’t differentiate in the type of education you give your child and everyone should receive the same type of learning. One way to introduce young female students to STEM is to engage them in MakerBot competitions and after school classes to code.

This photo shows a MakerBot designing something Credit: Stephanie Avery

Having all women science events at schools informs young girls of the types of STEM jobs they could have and how they can overcome the obstacles of today’s gender stereotypes. Challenging young women to get out of their comfort zones and learn new skills may inspire them to pursue a career in STEM.

Teaming with a mentor is a career strategy that can bring huge benefits, especially to women in unbalanced work environments like engineering. Time and time again, the majority of successful women credit their participation in some sort of mentorship for dramatically helping them reach their career goals.

Educating women about STEM is important to growing our math and science fields in the United States. We need to take a proactive approach and start early to expose young female students to fun and engaging activities to build their interests and confidence in STEM. By offering mentors and education, young women will realize how important women are for the growth of our science, technology, engineering, and math departments in the country and start educating women early so they learn to appreciate STEM, want to take that path in college, and for a future job.