STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Discussion of STEM-related programs has become a priority because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields, and there is a shortage. It is also of concern that this is a field where women and girls are very underrepresented.
We understand that in years past the culture considered engineering, math, science and technology career paths for men. STEM professionals can explore diverse fields like aeronautics and biochemistry, science, mathematics, engineering, research, and technology. In the past and unfortunately still today the workforce in these fields is dominated by men.
Are Women Interested in STEM Careers?
Do women and girls have less interest in science, math and so on, or are girls intentionally tracked away those careers, and offered limited access and opportunity? Some have put forth the myth of a math brain, saying young boys are more naturally math-minded. An article at Catalyst.org argues the opposite – that tracking is the reality.
“Girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their access, preparation and opportunities to go into these fields as adults.”
According to the article “Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.”
Not Good News for the STEM Workforce
This is not good news for women, or for the culture, and one must ask how are girls and women intentionally being tracked away? Is it true that these fields are viewed as masculine, with teachers and parents underestimating the capabilities of girls in early education, even as early as preschool?
Some believe that the higher percentage of men in leadership positions leads to women being excluded in hiring, with men preferring male co-workers. The article states that engineering was overwhelmingly considered to be the biggest culprit, with 76 percent of respondents naming it as ‘a man’s world’.
Another possibility is that girls have fewer role models to inspire their interest in these fields. Growing up they have seen limited examples of female scientists and engineers on television, in movies and in books. Since women clearly are in the minority, and with past cultural conditioning being a reality. that is likely.
STEM Education Anxiety
Now we come to the theory of Math Anxiety. The aforementioned article states that teachers, who are predominantly women, have math anxiety and they pass this onto girls. The writer states “…. they often grade girls harder for the same work, and assume girls need to work harder to achieve the same level as boys.” This is a bold presumption.
Still the statistics continue to tell the story of girls and women being disenfranchised in STEM careers. Only 21% of engineering majors and 19% of computer science majors are women.
We are fortunate to be able to interview a role model, Shannon Crader, Software Development Manager at AMS Fulfillment. Shannon has lived through the experience of education, training and working in a STEM field.
Thank you Shannon for sharing your thoughts. We would love to hear your viewpoint and perhaps your insight into how we can change this model which has left women and girls out of these higher-paying and beneficial fields.
“I can’t say that there is such a thing as Math Anxiety or that women have it. Not all STEM careers require high levels of math. It all depends on the application and industry that the individual finds themselves.
I think there are two factors at play in the world. One: there seems to me to be a general societal belief that women don’t want to work in STEM related fields and so they are not encouraged to participate in the classes or material. And two, for a woman to work in a male-dominated industry can be difficult and so women may try to protect others by pointing out the trials that they will experience if they continue forward, in essence discouraging the pursuit of STEM fields.
More attention is being placed on women in STEM these days with wonderful articles like yours highlighting the plight. Women in STEM positions are also reaching out to younger generations and showing them the way through. There is hope!