Breaking Down Barriers: Women in STEM

Photo by SBT4NOW (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Percentages, facts and statistics; these are all three common interests associated with those in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  However, a lot of surprising truth lies behind certain percentages, facts and statistics.

Less than a quarter of the United States STEM workforce is made up of women.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, compared to their male counterparts, women who graduate with STEM degrees are not as likely to get a job in a STEM field.

Joan C. Williams, a distinguished law professor at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, conducted research with female scientists from the Association for Women in Science.

From her interviews and surveys, Williams found out that “two-thirds of the women interviewed, and two-thirds of the women surveyed, reported having to prove themselves over and over again – their successes discounted, their expertise questioned.”

This type of gender-based discrimination is nothing new for women in STEM fields.  Beginning as early as childhood, toys like LEGOS and blocks, which are often marketed towards boys, help children develop spatial skills.  These skills, according to an article in The Guardian, are fundamental for children to establish math skills in the future.

According to Cara Dielle Pew, fourth year Cal Poly computer science major and president of the school’s Women Involved in Software (WISH) club, encouraging girls to get involved in STEM should be practiced early on.

Pew elaborates, saying, “It starts from a young age-from not just making girls play with Barbies while boys learns to tinker and build and fix things.  Encouraging girls to solve hard problems from a young age and to not step down from things that are difficult, and to not fear failure.”

Eliminating this fear of defeat can seem very daunting for many women, specifically due to the ingrained sense of gender-based discrimination in STEM fields.  According to a Best Colleges article, Williams’ study found that more than 50 percent of female scientists surveyed reported adverse reactions to their actions at work being too “masculine.”

Pew also recognizes the hardships of being a women in STEM, saying:

“There are always students who assume I don’t understand a subject as well…inherently because of my gender.  I have had professors that never refer to a hypothetical engineer as ‘she’ instead of he.”

Despite all the barriers in the way of these women, several reasons remain for them to continue to pursue interest and careers in the STEM fields.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a study showing the average first year salaries of those with bachelor’s degrees in math and sciences, computer science, and engineering.  The results were $55,087, $61,321, and $64,891 respectively.

The U.S. Department of Commerce study “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future” included important information regarding the projected growth rate for STEM careers.  From 2008 to 2018, there is expected to be a 17 percent growth rate, whereas  jobs in non-STEM fields are only estimated to grow by 9.8 percent.

Growing up with an interest in STEM, Pew recognizes the importance of including women in the field.  She explains:

“Without women providing an equal perspective on science and technology, we risk those areas lacking research that will benefit all people rather than just a specific subset.”







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