Representation Matters: Women in STEM

It is August of 2016, and in the words of Queen Latifah’s song Come so Far, “I know we’ve come so far, but we’ve got so far to go.”  According to census.gov, from the 70s to the 90s, there was a drastic increase in women’s employment in STEM fields. Since then, however, the increase has slowed, and we still have much progress left to achieve.  Currently, in the STEM workforce, women occupy only 29% of jobs.  In computer science, women account for only 25% of occupations, and in engineering, women account for only 15% of occupations. Clearly, women are severely underrepresented in these fields (National Girls Collaborative Project).

Why women with degrees are not receiving jobs in STEM fields can only be called what it is– sexism. But, I find myself asking why girls aren’t going into these fields in the first place? In a recent survey asking 500 children, ages one through ten,  about what they wanted to be when they grow up, the majority stated non-STEM fields, but 41% of girls said they wanted to go into a STEM field while only 32% of boys said they wanted to go into a STEM field (Forbes).  While encouraging, this trend  unfortunately seemed to change as time progressed.  A study from 2013, of teens aged fourteen to seventeen, found that of 1,025 teens surveyed, 30% of boys responded that they were interested in a STEM field, while only 14% of girls responded that they were interested in a STEM field (NBS news).  This leaves me wondering what is happening between the ages 10 and 14 that is discouraging girls from joining these fields. Whether it be the media or fear that changes these girls minds, it is something that needs to change.  Representation is everything.  

Women are not going into STEM fields for various reasons.  One major reason that women refrain from STEM fields is that women are teased in school, meaning that in STEM classes, they are discouraged by their classmates because they are “just girls.”  Women also generally aren’t encouraged to go into STEM fields, and even when women are already on the STEM path, often times, they are not encouraged with schooling and even in the field.  Stereotypes and the media play a large role in how women view STEM fields.  Stereotypes about women in STEM tend to repel women from going into STEM fields, and the media makes it seem like only men are in the fields.  Typically, men are more aggressive than women, which permits women to be  figuratively pushed aside.  Marginalization and bias also cause women to turn away from STEM careers.  The fear of working just as hard for less and working hard yet still not being chosen solely because someone is a woman makes women lose the desire to go into STEM careers.  To improve  this, we can spread awareness, we can work to change the stereotypes, and we can encourage our friends and family from a young age to go into STEM fields [Business Insider].

There are so many dilemmas that only women face every day.  Men dominate STEM fields and innovate solutions to many issues, but they can’t walk in our shoes, and they can’t know what dilemmas women see as necessary to address as well.   If more women integrate themselves into these fields they can work towards finding solutions to these problems using their competencies in science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some women in the past have done just that.  Examples include the invention of the dishwasher by Josephine Cochrane, the invention of the disposable diaper by Marian Donovan, and the invention of the solar heated home by Dr. Maria Telkes.  

At the time of the invention of the dishwasher in 1872, women were expected to and often did spend time at home cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children.  A dilemma many of them faced was how to efficiently clean their dishes, and men might have struggled with recognizing this because back then it was not a struggle they faced. Josephine Cochran was fully aware of this struggle because she saw so many people who faced it and was, therefore, able to create a solution.  She and her husband William would have dinner parties often.  The china used during these dinner parties was very nice and expensive and on one occasion, the servants chipped the china due to the fact that dishwashing was difficult during that time.  That caused her to want to find a safer option.  When her husband died, he actually left her with a pile of debts. She needed to pay the debt off, so she was even more motivated to create the dishwasher.  This was a struggle, SHE, as a woman faced, so SHE innovated a solution.

The same applies to both Marian Donovan and Dr. Maria Telkes with the invention of the disposable diaper and the solar heated home.  They were facing these issues personally, as women, and as people and through STEM they created solutions.  

It is so important that we, as young women go into these fields, for equality, for ourselves, and for our future.

-Inaya Ahmed