Although statistics have shown an increase in STEM careers, why don’t I see more women in my journey through the STEM industry? The answer is not so simple. A combination of societal expectations, equal opportunities, and other biases have led to a continuous disparity between men and women in STEM occupations. But did you know STEM is more than just men in engineering?
STEM IN THE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM
Historically, society has had the expectation for men to pursue careers in science and engineering and women to more secretarial jobs and raise children. Modern society’s progressiveness has started to break these expectations and norms, and male-dominated career fields are becoming more diverse. However, while more women have been participating in STEM fields, more men have been joining these career paths faster (National Science Foundation).
A significant improvement in today’s public educational system is the inclusion of STEM pathways in the curriculum. With this addition to the course listings, students can be introduced to STEM as early as elementary school. By the time these students reach high school, those who are more STEM-inclined can choose courses that align with their interests: math courses that incorporate engineering, computer science courses, drafting for architecture, and various other courses that promote STEM principles. The inclusion of STEM throughout the public-school experience is important for equal exposure for both men and women. Traditionally, women might not have been offered the opportunity to pursue a STEM education pathway. Still, now, any student can learn about STEM early and start their career path in high school.
However, many schools might not have fully integrated STEM pathways into their curriculum, which can cause a geographical disparity of women who join STEM careers. Additionally, the continuation of STEM education past high school can be expensive as some public colleges or universities may not offer desired courses. Unfortunately, while online resources can be a great tool to self-teach STEM, it is much more difficult to vouch for experience and knowledge without formal education and degree. This barrier into the world of STEM is an issue for both men and women, but with women already at a disadvantage, barriers such as financial capacity further the disparity.
EDUCATION AS A CATALYST FOR PROGRESSIVENESS
Now that women have equal opportunities to pursue whichever kind of education they want, the expectation for them to solely perform domestic duties and live quiet lives has diminished. While some are still uncomfortable with the power and equality women have gained in recent years, people can celebrate women being successful in STEM fields where they have not been in the past. With the incorporation of STEM into public education systems, society can begin normalizing women studying STEM subjects. Normalizing access to formal STEM education can lead to the normalization of women working the same jobs as men and bring us a step closer to equality in the workplace.
STEM IS MORE THAN ENGINEERING
Some might hear STEM and think engineering or calculus, but STEM is so much more than just difficult subjects. With science, options range from psychology to physics. Historically, most women in STEM studied science fields, specifically psychology, because of the natural empathy that women harbor. Technology allows for those who are not hands-on to engage in engineering mainly through computing. For example, computational media requires both critical thinking and creativity. Most people might assume that STEM careers do not allow for the freedom of expression, but creatives in a STEM field will always find a way to integrate their art into their work. Engineering, in general, is just creating and designing to solve problems, which also requires creativity. The general understanding of STEM may turn away potential STEM students, including young women who could excel in a STEM subject. Increasing the understanding, awareness, and availability of STEM would improve society’s perspective and encourage more women to pursue a STEM career.
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN IN STEM?
As I mentioned earlier, statistics show that more women participate in STEM more than ever, but in my experience at a STEM university, classes were overwhelmingly filled with men. Although the number of women in STEM has relatively increased, men who join STEM pathways are also increasing, continuing a gender disparity. More women have also been joining engineering careers rather than social science and psychology paths. However, the same issue arises with men’s rate in the engineering fields overshadowing the higher rate of women. There is no doubt that more women are in more rigorous STEM fields, so I will keep my head up for now and look for them.
National Science Foundation. “Has Employment of Women and Minorities in S&E Jobs Increased?” STEM Education Data and Trends, nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool/data/workforce-07.html.