This is a guest post from writer and blogger, Jennifer Landis at Mindfulness Mama.
People know the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field for its high-wage jobs and modern advances. Yet it's not praised for its gender equality.
Women and girls show an interest in STEM from a young age. Still, they remain unrepresented in the engineering workforce. Women make up around half of the college-educated employees in the U.S., but only 22% of the STEM sector. Specific fields are worse than others. For example, women only make up 12% of engineering professionals and 13% of management.
This disparity stems from numerous factors, including discrimination and lack of access. In the 21st-century, some families oppose daughters showing an interest in science or mathematics. Many believe women should stick to specific roles, such as teaching and nursing.
While history has proven this to be untrue, some people have yet to catch up with the times. Careers in all fields should span across genders. A lack of this mindset prevents people from doing what they love.
Consider all the issues the STEM sector can solve. Those in the industry will fight climate change, political unrest and medical reform. Yet we can't do so with backward ideologies and disproportionate female representation.
Society must forge new paths to create a better future.
From Education to Industry
It's no coincidence that women are absent in many STEM careers and education tracks. While most high school graduates complete mathematics courses up to Algebra 2, girls tend to fall behind in specific fields of science — such as AP physics — compared to boys. Males are also more likely to take AP computer science — 77% compared to 23%.
Companies in many industries, including STEM, face challenges filling positions. This issue didn't arise due to a lack of talent. Instead, societal standards have stifled the flow of innovation. Plenty of women who'd like these jobs face heavy discouragement. To close the gap, we must agree on critical areas of development, such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving.
Women who break into STEM careers don't always receive the salary they deserve. From careers in science to mathematics, the pay gap looms large.
According to one study, 48% of women in STEM jobs surrounded by men say their gender makes it harder for them to succeed. They face barriers in hiring, promotion and salary negotiation. They experience unfair treatment from coworkers, including sexual harassment. Women also face higher standards compared to men, forced to work harder to maintain their position.
A woman in a STEM career with unfair pay might walk away from the field. Their experience might discourage others from exploring curiosities. As an issue, this is systematic, not individual. Change must work on a broad scale, with numerous organizations on board. Activists continue to emphasize the problem, yet change requires higher authorities to listen.
Women don't only experience the pay gap in STEM careers. It's a pervasive, industry-wide issue that legislators and businesses must tackle.
Stereotypes Smother Creativity
It's not uncommon for girls to associate jobs like scientists, pilots and engineers with males. Men have dominated these fields for a long time. Years ago, women couldn't go to college. Once they gained access, schools barred them from STEM fields. While times have changed, women are still less likely to take up science and math courses. The reason? Many feel unwelcome.
Representation within a group fosters growth and self-esteem. People go where they're wanted and celebrated. When society tells women they're not wanted in STEM, they'll leave those dreams behind.
It's a long-standing stereotype that women are bad at math or uninterested in science. Yet these generalizations don't consider the deeper truth. Women aren't bad in these fields — they don't have a chance to flourish.
One study found female students score slightly lower on standardized math tests with multiple-choice questions. However, they're better at open-ended questions, the chance to articulate and link ideas. Unfortunately, most math and science tests feature a multiple-choice format.
If we want female representation in STEM to grow, we must restructure the system from the inside out.
A boost in STEM participation comes with proper representation and fair opportunities. When girls see women in positions of authority, they know they can achieve the same. Societal influence plays a significant role in business.
Organizations must create policies that protect female workers and make them feel safe in the environment. The right environment will attract top women in the industry.
Creative assignments in classrooms promote learning, regardless of gender. Teachers should show enthusiasm and acceptance for those who enroll in STEM opportunities. You can suggest organizations that nurture girls' interest, including WISE, Scientista and Million Women Mentors. Students can learn about extracurricular activities or create a new program at their school.
Schools should focus on enhancing educational standards despite gender disparity. The study that discovered girls excel on open-ended questions also found boys don't perform so well. Educators and parents alike should be concerned about these performance gaps. Schools must implement strategies to accommodate a variety of learning styles.
Provide Women and Girls With Better Possibilities
The world needs diversity in STEM if we want to solve critical problems. Men have studied global warming and ocean marine life for decades. It's time for women to partake.
Despite ethnicity, class or gender, people need the chance to explore interests and express themselves. The 21st-century must offer opportunities that weren't available before. If we allow women to spread their knowledge, everyone benefits.