Women have played a significant role in our civilization intellectual, technological, and cultural development. Sadly, women still don’t receive the credit that they deserve for their role in modern development. Even though we live during a time where feminism is taking shape and promoting equal rights for women, we still have a major issue when it comes to women in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
The state of women in STEM has already started to raise many questions that mostly revolve around pipeline, bias, and equal earnings. The truth of the matter is that the number of women in science, technical, and math courses has been decreasing since 1991, and the issue seems to be bigger than just a personal one. It’s already being noticed that a majority are already dropping out of STEM subjects and careers so as to get a better work-life balance. This means that we need to think of a solution quickly in order to elevate women in STEM and also increase their numbers.
What Research Says
Statistically, it was noted that by 2016 alone there was only about 24% of women in STEM fields, yet 48% of the total workforce was made up of women. We are definitely in the time and age where the world needs technological innovation in almost every career field. Even so, there’s still 27% of women employees in math and computer science positions. The physical and life sciences are comprised of 25% women. This shows how a majority of women have chosen to forgo technical courses for other careers. In 2009, it was noted that there were 6.7 million men that had graduated from college and were placed to work in various STEM fields. This figure was only 2.5 million for women..
What is Contributing to these Outcomes?
Lack of Media Support
One of the major issues that have led to a dampening state of women in STEM is the deep lack of media and cultural representation around women in science and technical related fields.
A practical example to consider is two hit sitcoms that were launched in the 1990s. Family Matters featured a young Black male, Steve Urkel, that had a deep interest in the sciences.
Another sitcom, A Different World, featured a teenage black male student that studied mathematics in college. These shows were good in promoting and encouraging people of color to take part in math and science subjects.
There really hasn’t been as many instances of young women featured in similar roles.
Consider these statistics from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media:
- Men STEM characters significantly outnumbered women STEM characters in film, television, and streaming content from 2007 – 2017 (62.9% compared to 37.1%). This sends the message to girls and women that STEM professions are primarily for men
- STEM characters were rarely featured in leading roles, and when they were, men STEM characters were moderately (but significantly) more likely than women STEM characters to be leads (10.8% compared to 7.5%)
- Men STEM characters were more likely than women characters to be shown as engineers (13.7% compared to 2.4%), as physical scientists (11.8% compared to 6.4%), and in computer occupations (11.5% compared to 8.6%)
- Most STEM characters in kids’ programming were male (59.3%)
While progress has been made recently with popular shows like The Big Bang Theory (Amy Farrah Fowler), The Mindy Project (Mindy Lahiri), and Chicago Med (April Sexton), these studies show that there is still a wide gap between the prominence of men and women.
There are also several instances where violence has blocked young women from receiving a quality educational foundation, which greatly limits their opportunities to pursue careers in STEM. One example of this type of incidence against women occurred with Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who had to take threats, got banned from school, and was almost assassinated just because she strongly exercised her educational rights.
As you may know, Ms. Yousafzai has gone on to accomplish great things in her career, including becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at 17, accomplishing great feats in her struggle against the suppression of young people and equal access to education for all children, and co-authoring I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, which as of 2017 has sold over 2 million copies.
Among her many awards include:
- 2012: Foreign Policy magazine top 100 global thinker
- 2012: Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice
- 2013: Simone de Beauvoir Prize
- 2013: One of Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World”
- 2013: Glamour magazine Woman of the Year
- 2014: Philadelphia Liberty Medal
- 2014: Skoll Global Treasure Award
- 2014: One of Time Magazine “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014”
- 2017: Harper’s Bazaar inducted Malala in the list of “150 of the most influential female leaders in the UK”
- 2017: Youngest ever United Nations Messenger of Peace
Ms. Yousafzai’s life is just one shining example that when given opportunity, young women can make a global impact in any field.
The Solution? Focus on Inclusion and Representation
With an emphasis on inclusion and representation, great strides are being made to increase the number of women in STEM fields.
Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code in San Francisco, leads a team who provide classes and workshops for girls aged 7-17 to learn coding. Programs such as these give girls and young women a head start and help bridge the gap between men and women in STEM.
Fostering an “I Can Do it Attitude”
WiSE, a program associated with the University of California Berkeley School of Engineering, has recently launched a series of undergraduate programs called Excellence in STEM. These programs will support WiSE’s overall mission to support the achievement of excellence in STEM and persistence towards graduation.
A major component of programs like these are network and opportunities to build beneficial, professional relationships that can dramatically improve chances for success in post-undergrad endeavors and the workforce.
It’s high time that the world joins hands to promote the status of women in STEM-related fields and careers. In our fight to end global poverty by 2030, technology and innovation can and should be driving forces. When we push for equal opportunities and representation for women in STEM, we take a big step in progress and opening the door for contributions from women.
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