Why are there so few women in STEM?
We are all hearing about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) in education with the fairly, recent push to fully incorporate it into the public school system. Now, even in Kindergarten, they have hands-on STEM projects every week to work on. Despite these efforts, there continues to be a lack of female presence in STEM occupations. This fact has not gone unnoticed by major figure-heads and influential speakers on women’s issues.
Hillary Clinton is not blind to this reality and is calling for change. In a speech she gave at San Jose State University she stated: “We must focus on how we can help women and girls break through ceilings that hold them back,” Clinton continued “It’s the unfinished business of the 20th century.” Reported the San Jose Business Journal.
Is Hillary right? ABSOLUTELY! Statistics reported by the US Department of Commerce, state that women represent only 24% of the STEM workforce and the overall number of women receiving STEM degrees has continued to decrease.
Hilary Clinton encourages female students to major in STEM fields
Further, in another report from the US Department of Commerce conducted in 2011; “only one in seven engineering workers is female, while only 27 percent of computer science jobs are held by women.” To add insult to injury, women are reported to graduate college at higher numbers than their male counterparts, however, they are much less likely to graduate with a STEM-related degree (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.)
We are left wondering why?
There are so many variables that go into the why of this issue: confidence, gender roles, accessibility, to name just a few. According to Heather Huhman with Forbes “The problem starts as early as grade school. Young girls are rarely encouraged to pursue math and science, which is problematic considering studies show a lack of belief in intellectual growth can actually inhibit it. In addition, there exists an unconscious bias that science and math are typically “male” fields while humanities and arts are primarily “female” fields, and these stereotypes further inhibit girls’ likelihood of cultivating an interest in math and science.” Heather Huhman makes a very accurate and strong point here and there is further study to support her position.
There have been many studies conducted to show that girls start off strong in these areas, but with lack of support by teachers and parents, once in high school, girls are no longer leading the boys. “Teachers fail to see girls’ raised hands, and limit their interactions with girls to social, non-academic topics. Boys may be expected to lead the pack in these areas and when a girl shows a proficiency in STEM subjects it can be seen as trivial and fleeting.” Teachers are not the villain here, however, more likely societal gender roles have set this bias in place.
For more information on this issue refer to Teaching for Gender Difference by Dale Baker It is an eye-opening account of what happens to young girls in the classroom.
How do we solve this problem?
First off, I believe we are on the right track offering STEM education at a much younger age. Reaching children at a young age and building their interest and thusly, confidence in these sometimes difficult areas.
Second, I think we educate teachers to encourage young girls to follow their interest in STEM. No teacher is trying to be bias, however, training and awareness of such biases can help alleviate them in the long run.
Third, I think we make access to higher education in these field extremely incising to woman by offering grants and scholarships to gain a bachelor’s in these fields of study. Women are a minority in these courses and as such, deserve recognition and incentive to pursue an advanced degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.
Corporations can also weigh in by encouraging female applicants, offering internships and placing female college students or entry-level employees with a mentor to guide them in their career advancement.
Those are just a few ways we can direct change on this issues. The first step is awareness and there are in fact a lot of programs in place to address this issue.
A few of those include:
National Girls Collaborative Project http://ngcproject.org/
The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) encourages young girls to begin a career in a STEM field. They accomplish this by offering several publications on the matter of the lack of female presence in these career fields. And act as a collaborative group consisting of many organizations across the country.
Association for Career and Technical Education
The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), is the largest association of its kind, addressing pedagogical issues in technology education. The association provides resources for teachers of these subjects and is highly involved in advocacy work. They in fact lobby policymakers on behalf of improving technical education in schools.
Association for Women in Science
The Association for Women in Science, or AWIS, is a professional organization for women who work in STEM jobs. They offer many resources for women working in these fields such as continued education, literature, workshops in addition to coaching and mentoring services.
There are several other organizations for women in STEM careers and many to help get females in these fields.
For a comprehensive list please see: http://www.worldwidelearn.com/education-articles/15-innovative-initiatives-bringing-women-into-stem.html