Bridging the gap between women and STEM

Drew Quiriconi, Opinions Editor

IMG_5736Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are all fields that have long been dominated by men. This phenomenon doesn’t occur because women have a harder time getting a career in one of these fields and are pushed out to the fringes; a new study by Cornell University psychologists says that women have a 2:1 better chance of getting an interview and being hired in a STEM related field. Women are a minority in STEM because as a culture, we do not encourage women to go into one of the fields.

Women have come a long way from the pink-collar jobs of the 1950s and 60s. Instead of being confined to a secretary position, they have exploded onto the job market, occupying positions that have long been considered male only. They have 60 percent of all bachelors degrees in the US, but 20 percent of degrees in computer science, 20 percent in physics and 18 percent in engineering. We still have a huge untapped pool of potential lying in the millions of women, who never even considered any of these careers.

The first root of this problem is gender stereotypes. It’s easier to group people all together rather than look at them as individuals, so people generalize and say that science is not for women as a whole. Some may go as far to say that women have innate biological factors that make them less viable for STEM related careers. Speaking anecdotally, the girls in my science classes show just as much of an ability or not more of an ability to learn the subject. They also tend to work much harder than the boys, but that is a whole other discussion.

These stigmas against women in STEM extend to them not being encouraged to pursue this type of career. Most people have have many mentors or teachers, who have a significant influence on their lives, and ultimately what they decide to with that life. Women don’t have as much positive influence to pursue these careers as do men.

“I didn’t go on in physics because not a single professor — not even the adviser who supervised my senior thesis — encouraged me to go to graduate school,” wrote Eileen Pollack in The New York times, who herself graduated with a degree in physics.

This lack of encouragement can extend to women not only believing that STEM is not viable for them, but it has been shown in studies that when women are told that men score better on math tests, they score worse than men. If they are told that this is a myth, as it really is, they score just as well. Internal bias can go a long way to deepen the gender divide.

It may seem a daunting task to try and get young women interested in STEM, but there are a lot of groups doing it. At our own school and many others, there  is the club GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Mathematics and Science). The most important goal is to remove the stigma behind STEM careers, the stigma that these careers are for “nerds.” I disagree with those that want to make math and science more “fun” and “entertaining,” being that is misleading to present the subjects this way. The reality is that they are tough.

That said, many women can handle the subjects. They are just as capable as men.