Updated: Oct 14, 2020
As early as anyone can remember, the question of what we wanted to be when we grew up was always there. You’ve heard the common answers of a firefighter, a teacher, an astronaut, and a veterinarian, but how often have you heard a little girl claiming she would like to be an electrical engineer and watch her actually become one?
If you answered not often, there’s a reason for that, as there is an overall shortage of women in STEM.
What Is STEM?
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, math, and is a term used for the careers that focus on these four subjects. Some major jobs that are associated with the STEM field are any types of doctors, engineers, data analysts, etc.. A job can usually be identified as a STEM career if it uses science or math. However, the majority of these jobs are occupied by men. Why is that? Well, there are many reasons for it.
How Many Women Are In STEM?
Even though the number of women going into STEM occupations is rising, only 28% of women are in the engineering and science workforce. These numbers vary according to different fields and occupations. In the social sciences, for example, women make up 60% of the workforce. Social sciences include jobs such as psychologists, social workers, counselors, etc. As you go towards fields that integrate more science and math, however, these numbers decrease.
In the agricultural, environmental, and biological fields, women make up only 48% of the workforce. Jobs in these fields include agricultural technicians, environmental specialists, biologists, ecologists, research scientists, etc.
The lowest percentages of women are seen in fields where the focus is centered on math-related subjects. This is seen in the computer, and mathematical sciences, which are normally composed of only 26% of women in the workforce, and engineering comprises only 15% women. The jobs that fall under these fields include electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software engineers, network security engineers, mathematicians, analysts, etc.
Why Aren't There Many Women Present?
Women constantly face stigmas and stereotypes that prevent them from achieving certain accomplishments, including having a STEM career. For instance, the stereotype that women should stick to being housewives or teachers creates a stigma against women that achieve anything other than being a wife, mother, or teacher.
Many incorrect stereotypes have to do with what women and men are good at. For example, the stereotype that women aren't as good at math as men is incorrect as both men and women have cognitive strengths and weaknesses. This stereotype is harmful as it creates the stigma that women are less capable than men at STEM-related activities. Thus, many women feel ridiculed or unconfident in their own abilities, leading them to drop their interest in the STEM field.
The lack of role models that little girls have is also a major factor in the lack of women in STEM. The education system itself hardly focuses on women in STEM, their contributions, achievements, and importance to society. This causes young women to unconsciously associate men with STEM-related activities and women with inadequate performance in the field at a young age.
What Can Society Do?
So how can we improve this gap? To put it simply, if we support women in math and science, it will raise confidence and lead to more girls exploring the STEM field. Educating youth about the importance of female scientists and engineers will inspire younger girls to pursue STEM-based careers. Promoting equality in the workplace will lessen the sexism that many women have to face daily. This can be done by educating society on the issues women face and how we can overcome them.
With more girls in STEM, there will be more diversity in the field. This new variety will inspire more creativity, innovation, and competitiveness, leading to even greater breakthroughs and improvements that will help us all.
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