Gender biases keep women from pursuing STEM careers

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are the foundation of today’s society, but female contribution to the field lags far behind that of males.

Although the U.S. Department of Labor reported that women make up 58 percent of the overall workforce, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Commerce revealed that females comprise fewer than 25 percent of workers in STEM industries. Most females with a STEM degree instead choose to work in education or health care.

Engineering and computer science, fields expected to grow exponentially in the upcoming decades, have a particularly vast gender gap that puts America’s innovative global leadership at risk.

Supporters of greater female participation in STEM aren’t limited to feminazis crying for attention; economists recognize the disparity as missed opportunities for financial, scientific, and technological progress. The federal government itself is taking steps to increase the female participation through a collaboration between the Office of Science and Technology Policy and White House Council on Women and Girls.

“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone,” First Lady Michelle Obama said at the White House and National Science Foundation’s announcement of the Career-Life Balance Initiative in 2011. “We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Explanations of why women are so underrepresented vary, yet most can be attributed to one factor: the scarce number of women in the STEM field. Gender gaps in the industries perpetuate themselves. Women shy away from STEM because of its lack of females and their decisions further discourage those who consider entering it later.

Interest and affinity for the math and sciences aren’t the primary causes, contrary to society’s subconscious beliefs and associations. Senior Abril Huaman, an aspiring accountant, says that a career in mathematics is a natural choice for her.

“I’m really good at math and it’s an easy thing for me to understand,” Huaman said. “It [the male-dominated field] doesn’t really bother me, but others might get discouraged and do other things that more girls are doing.”

This lower sense of confidence more common among females than males that Huaman refers to is also credited as another factor of the gender gap. More likely to be perfectionists dissatisfied with B’s in upper level STEM courses, females are mentally inhibited from STEM as well.

Freshmen Angela Lu aims to be a sound engineer because she enjoys music in addition to finding math and science interesting. Lu initially said that she doesn’t mind the scarcity of females in engineering.

“I think it’s cool because it’ll make me different, like I’ll stand out,” Lu said. “I think most women are
interested in other things.”

After hearing the gender disparity statistics, however, Lu’s viewpoint changed.

“I didn’t know there weren’t that many women in engineering,” Lu said. “Now I’m kind of scared.”

The lack of female role models in the field is also a major concern of women in the STEM initiative. Girls may have idols in other fields that inspire them to work hard to achieve their own dreams, but the positive influence of a female STEM mentor is irreplaceable.

Chemistry and physics teacher Jennifer Prins uses her biochemistry degree, coincidentally a common pre-med major, for education because she enjoys explaining science to people. Prins says she had one professor in college who was slightly sexist. For young women interested in pursuing a STEM career, Prins offers a few words of advice.

“Don’t get discouraged if it seems hard or if you’re the only girl,” Prins said. “If guys tell you you’re not smart enough, don’t get discouraged. Get involved in research ASAP, even before you get your bachelor’s. ”

From calculus to robotics, Bear Creek offers many STEM-related classes and extracurriculars to all students.