Over the last twenty years, the US has managed to decrease the gender gap in the STEM fields of biosciences and social sciences, with the percentage of women in these fields ranging between 51% and 58%. However, gender gaps still persist in the fields of computer science, physics, and engineering.
The National Science Foundation conducted a statistical study that found that, although women and men equally complete high school and, in some cases, women receive a higher number of graduate degrees than men, women still remain a minority in many STEM fields. Women are often underpaid in these fields, and very few women that complete a STEM degree actually end up working in that field.
Although there are many reasons for this underrepresentation, ranging from hostile work conditions to institutional factors that constrain the ability of women to acquire and retain STEM jobs, there are some ways to counter this effect and encourage women to pursue STEM fields. I have found three simple ways that women can work together (and include men!) in order to create a comfortable environment for other women.
Girl clubs need our support. Many studies report that girls lack role models in the field of engineering. Women in STEM fields, whether they are studying or working, can volunteer and involve themselves in clubs, providing young girls with a relatable role model. Unlike other fields in which women are noticeably famous, we know of very few female role models in STEM fields.
It’s also important to talk about our work. Engineers have propagated a single story about their work, solving math and science , and girls are often unable relate to this. However, STEM has now expanded to so much more than just solving problems. There is a wide range of new collaborate and creative ways to find solutions to everyday problems. By telling a richer story about the kind of work we do with young girls, we can encourage them. I volunteered to chaperone a group of girls during the Girls Science Day at my college, and just by talking to the girls about my engineering studies, as well as the work I hoped to do with it, I helped some of them change their perception about STEM.
Another organization that does this is STEM From Dance. They hold workshops in schools that combine dancing with learning STEM skills. The idea is to make STEM culturally relevant through dance. Dance allows girls to build confidence and community, and this confidence is then carried forward into the class, where girls are taught skills in STEM-like coding.
Women need to stand up for themselves and each other. A census study, reported by Wall Street Journal , found that when men entered the field of nursing, a gender gap was created, even among similar work profiles. This happens because men tend to value themselves at a higher level and they demand more from their jobs, while women often undervalue themselves, and we need to stop this. On the other hand, we also must support each other. Women and girls need to participate in more female-centric activities in both their education and jobs. In many group observations, it has been seen that a single woman will keep quiet amongst a group of men. However, if there are more women in the group, even just two women, they will support each other and speak up more often. Women should come to events that happen around them, and they should discuss the many issues that all of us face at work and school. We should encourage each other to face these issues find solutions.
STEM is largely known as a male-dominated field (and it still is), so in order for us to find a solution to any problem in the field, we need to involve men. The Girls Scouts of America conducted a study and found that girls often do not feel welcome in STEM classrooms. One of the major reasons for this is that we often do not realise when we spread stereotypes. For example, a pamphlet stating “women can also do math!" only ends up emphasizing the stereotype that women can’t. Instead, we need to work with men in order to find ways that we can change these stereotypes in both classrooms and workplaces so that women can feel that they belong in STEM fields. We need to challenge stereotypes and combat biases when we see them, and this cannot be done without involving the other genders.
It’s an exciting time to be a woman. We are taking over the world! Let’s keep encouraging each other and breaking barriers at every step of the way!