Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -commonly known as STEM- are men dominated fields.
The Woman Post | Valentina Ibarra
Listen to this article
According to the UN, the global enrollment of women is low. In engineering, manufacturing, and construction the participation is 8%. For mathematics and statistics, the number goes down to 5%, while in information and communication technology the participation of women is only 3%.
Depending on the region, the numbers can be more optimistic. In the UK, for example, women make up 35% of STEM students (World Economic Forum). It is higher participation of women than the global indicator but still shows a big disparity in terms of gender involvement even in developed countries.
Furthermore, when women graduate the problem persists. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women make up 28% of the total workforce in the STEM fields within the US. Additionally, a research made by UNICEF found that the gap gets deeper depending on the type of work. When it comes to computing and engineering, the jobs occupied by women go lower than 15%.
The reality of the problem is undeniable, but why is it happening? UNICEF found that gender norms and stereotypes are shaping the career aspiration of women. For example, 70% of individuals in 34 countries associated science with men more than with women. In Latin America, between 8% and 20% of 6th-grade teachers believe that math is easier for boys than for girls. And when it comes to parents’ expectations, 50% had STEM ideals for their sons, while only 20% for their daughters.
Another important factor is role models for girls and adolescents all around the world. The Geena Davis Institution did research on the impact of media representation, and it shows that women -especially of color- barely saw themselves reflected in TV characters that worked in STEM. Furthermore, when they appear, it portrays sacrifice in their personal life when they get involved in these fields. And in those cases, it usually shows women in the life sciences field, which partially explains why it is the preferred sector for women within STEM.
So, what now? How does a society promote the enrollment of women in STEM careers?
First, there is a need for bigger and better representation for girls. The already existing characters are shown with intelligence and competence (Geena Davis Institute), so now there is a need to create more of them in the computer and engineering fields.
Furthermore, women that are succeeding in STEM should become more known to become role models. But as the research made by Benderly shows the existence of barriers that do not let women reach the highest positions and recognitions.
Because of that, AAUW recommends improving job hiring, retention, and promotion for women. It creates opportunities and role models for younger girls. Last, STEM education should be improved since early grades. Not only to promote the interest, and confidence of girls in the STEM field, but also to break the bias of teachers, parents, and society on their skills.