In a world that has fostered the depiction of women as dependent and domestic, there is an existing challenge to redefine women’s role in society. Not until relatively recently have women been able to overcome societal barriers preventing them from pursuing or being successful in a STEM career. With the growing trend of women in STEM fields and granted equal opportunities in a more progressive society, we still struggle to be treated with the same respect as our male counterparts.
A GLANCE AT THE PAST
A 1996 study of men and women who completed a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field shows that even though women represented 55 percent of this population, the discrepancy lies within the distribution of degrees among the various areas of STEM (Huang et al.). Women only made up 18 percent of engineering degrees but 73 percent of total psychology degrees. While the initial figures may have seemed promising for the future, as there is without a doubt more female representation in STEM fields, there is still the issue of equal representation of women in these fields. Even though women made up over half of the STEM population, very few studied hard sciences and engineering. Rather than superficial data, we need to see specific data showing women on the same level as men when it comes to engineering fields. Other layers to consider when addressing this issue are the representation of races within gender and equal pay across race and gender.
A LOOK AT THE PRESENT
Just since 1995, we have seen growth not only in the number of women in STEM careers – there was over double the amount of women in STEM careers in 2015 compared to 1995 – but also the amount of BIPOC women in STEM careers, which was nearly double (National Science Board Table 3-23). However, this growth of BIPOC women was primarily due to the increase of only Asian women in STEM careers, so there is still a drastic lack of black, Hispanic, Native American, and mixed-race women. It is not difficult to look around a STEM classroom and find a white or Asian man from my own experience. I have been one of the as many black females you can count on your hands more often than not. However, I have personally seen an increase in the number of black female colleagues, so the situation may not be as bleak as the statistics imply.
Regarding the annual salary of STEM employees based on sex, according to data collected in 1995, 2003, and 2015, women, on average, earned less than the average salary, while men made more than the average each year (National Science Board Table 3-24). Furthermore, whites and Asians were the only races to earn more than the average annual salary, with blacks and Hispanics falling significantly below the average. While such statistics may seem discouraging to the affected demographic, I believe that equality in the STEM work environment is coming as women have more opportunities now than ever to display their prowess.
THE GROWING TREND OF WOMEN IN STEM
Years later, females who made great achievements in STEM started to receive recognition for their historical contributions. Edith Clarke, Mary Engle Pennington, and Katherine Johnson are just a few names mentioned by the National Archives. Clarke broke the norm of women performing domestic duties and fought to work as an engineer as she was qualified. Pennington created universal food sanitation standards with her research as a bacteriological chemist. Johnson, an African-American mathematician, calculated trajectories for the Space Race and is an inspiration for many black girls who want to pursue STEM careers, especially with her most recent celebration in the Hidden Figures.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
With the growing acknowledgement of different types of women in STEM, I find a foundation of hope for women in STEM to receive the same amount of respect as men. Following this trend of increased representation, there is hope to win the battle of equality within the world of STEM, especially regarding the discrepancy in salaries of those who share equal qualifications. While such improvements do not make up for the discrimination and additional challenges females face in the world of STEM, I will take it as a glass-half-full and show my community that a young female of color can be more than successful in STEM.
National Science Board. Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018. https://nsf.gov/statistics/2018/nsb20181/data/tables
Huang, Gary, et al. Entry and Persistence of Women and Minorities in College Science and Engineering Education. 2000, nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/2000601.pdf.
“The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem.