What is STEM, you ask?
Not to be confused with the long stalk of the commonly desired rose, STEM stands for Sisters in Technology, Engineering and Math— Okay! Not quite, but doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? We aren’t too far off though! STEM actually represents Science, Technology, Engineering and Math— the fields of study that make the greatest contributions in solving day-to-day problems like climate change through renewable energy, engineering solutions for clean water, and even closer to home— engineering sustainable feminine hygiene products.
Where are our sisters in science?
In the rapidly changing world of technology and science, it may seem there is no shortage of innovation, but one thing we’re certainly low on are the sisters! So, where are our women?!
According to U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2010 women’s labor force participation rate has increased significantly from 47% to 56.8%. These numbers are only projected to increase.
So you’re probably thinking, “you mean to tell me, not only do women now make up more than half the national workforce, but we also earn more college and graduate degrees than men, making them what National Geographic says in some estimates, one of the largest single economic forces in the world? But,the gender gap in STEM still persists?” Yes, that is exactly what I’m telling you!
There is a historical context for the belief that a gender bias and sexism exist in the STEM field—the gender disparity for Nobel Prize winners, for example. Scientific American insists we cannot argue that it is nothing, and we never would, but it certainly isn’t everything in this case.
Employment opportunities in STEM fields are only increasing, and women are able to pursue them. However, the reason for the enormous percentage of female labor force not reflected in the STEM fields in particular is because more women are simply not pursuing the careers.
Why might that be? Studies show social, cultural, and pedagogical influences.
Few American students are in pursuit of careers in STEM fields, even fewer are women. In order to express an interest in a given subject, one must first have exposure to the subject. According the White House, nearly 40 percent of high schools did not offer physics in 2015.
The Trump administration acknowledges the limited STEM and Computer Science education among women, minorities, and students in rural communities. On September 26, 2017, Donald J. Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum prioritizing the tools to access the job market through the expansion of high quality STEM and Computer Science education for K-12. Providing all students with the necessary resources and programs allows the U.S. to leverage its entire workforce and have access to more potential innovators. This helps both men and women find their place in STEM.
Not only that, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that the national average wage for all STEM occupations was $87,570, nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations ($45,700). We need to get our money, honey.
Media representation of women in STEM.
Surely, on top of the challenging nature of their chosen careers’ subject matter, women aspiring to pursue a career in STEM have to struggle with the inaccurate stereotype that men are inherently better at them in the field. Our evolving culture however—media, entertainment, and music—are putting a dent in gender norms associated with these stereotypes.
Tony Wagner, an expert in residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World says, “What we find at the elementary level is that kids are often basing their aspirations on whatever they’ve been exposed to in the media.”
In the last decade we’ve seen several movies elevate women in STEM fields to new heights after falling short or being devoid of movies and TV shows that feature women in STEM. Just last year, 20th Century Fox produced the film Hidden Figures not only about women in STEM but three brilliant African-American women at NASA— Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson who calculated trajectories, engineered, and launched John Glenn into space, making him the first American to orbit the Earth.
Other images in media like Firefly, Orphan Black, Bones, The Flash, and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. represent women in biochemistry, forensic anthropology, evolutionary development, three-dimensional graphic and computer simulation system development, etc.
The odds are still somewhatstacked against girls in the toy aisle, but even toys are evolving to include Barbie Stem Kits and GoldieBlox, as well as awesome online children’s membership options like Amazon’s STEM club and Kiwi Crate that develop children’s abilities and engage budding scientists and engineers.
Who The Nobel Prize forgot.
The truth is, we are evolving as individuals and as a nation. Throughout history, the Nobel Prize has forgotten many women whose contributions were notable and deserving of such prestigious honors. But, women no longer have to have men accept our honors and awards for us. We no longer have to wait to get our awards long after our legacy is the only thing left of us on this earth. This generation, and even more so, the generations that will follow ours, have the opportunity to win these awards and accept them while we are still full of life.
We can make contributions to the advancements of the world, and we can do it for the women who came before us. Lise Meitner, for one, did not share the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission. The Prize was instead awarded to Otto Hahn, the man she collaborated with in her studies. In the 1990s the committee reviewing the information ruled her exclusion from the honor “unjust.” As a result, Meitner received posthumous honors, including naming chemical element 109 Meitnerium in 1997, the highest honor one can receive. While awarding posthumously to those who were deserving, some women like Vera Rubin, who provided evidence for the existence of dark matter and galactic superclusters, never even received posthumous acknowledgment from The Nobel.
Scientists and engineers are typecast as innately intelligent, born with abilities beyond comprehension, and more inclined to the sciences. Women of the past, those destined for marriage and domestic life who broke the mold and pursued the sciences—were not born genius, but exhibited pure dedication and hard work.
Where is your seat at the STEM table? How do we close the gender disparity gap?
It’s starts at home. As a parent, expose young girls; expose all children to representations of women and girls in STEM. Give your daughters; give all your children Legos and other construction toys to develop their cognitive development through spatial, fine and gross motor skills. It’s a small step in the right direction.
Research shows that women are more likely to take jobs that consist of human connection. So, we embark on careers that we know directly affect peoples lives. You can be anything! A teacher, an artist, a blogger, or a mechanic. An educator can supplement their students’ learning with STEM enrichment classes.
You don’t have to choose a career in STEM to support promising young minds. An artist can use their creativity to illustrate architectural and engineering drawings that contribute to the advancement of projects in many spheres. A blogger can pursue careers in web-development, and a mechanic in mechanical engineering.
There is a lack of awareness that the growing job market in the STEM fields accomplish these means on a larger scale. For subjects and tools that are so pervasive in our everyday lives, it’s only right that as little over half of the population, we contribute to them. Connecting the jobs women and girls pursue and the reasons for pursuing them with relative STEM field positions can help us fulfill the same aspirations that are vital to the future, not just of this country but possibly the world.
To learn more about the exciting opportunities that engineering represents for girls and women visit https://www.engineergirl.org.