Originally published 12/1/17.
Today is an appropriate day to be talking about the presence of women in STEM (the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Today is the day I attend, with many other badass local professional women, the 2017 Oklahoma Women in Technology (OKWIT) Gala in Oklahoma City. (Note: I consider any female professional to be “badass.” This article is specific to STEM, though.)
STEM fields are known to be traditionally dominated by men, but things are starting to change. Women in STEM are starting to make increase their presence. This article looks at the facts, struggles, and benefits of women in STEM fields, as well as how we can all continue to foster the progress of a diverse workplace.
According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), “Women have earned 57% of all bachelor’s degrees and about half of all science and engineering (S&E) bachelor’s degrees since the late 1990s.” Female students are obviously just as dedicated to the study of the subjects, so why do they seem so underrepresented in the career fields? Well, that same study shows that women actually do dominate a field of science. Women account for 70% of all representation in the field of psychology. Why, then, are women still the minority in science and engineering?
There are a lot of factors that contribute to choosing a career. Girls in grade school score just as high as boys, but traditional social expectations cultivate different mentalities in the genders. Boys are gifted legos, are explicitly and implicitly encouraged to enjoy science and math, and are still commonly raised to be “breadwinners.”
Girls, however, are gifted baby dolls and are encouraged in homemaking skills.
While society has made significant progress in redefining gender roles, some factors of a girl’s upbringing still permeate her decisions about a career. Women tend to show more interest in a work/life balance and more concern about the social impact of their occupation. Since STEM fields are still primarily led by men, such factors of employment are not prioritized by employers. Women in STEM leadership positions would be nothing but an asset.
We all know the benefits of diversity in the workforce. Innovation is catalyzed when multiple different perspectives influence the processes of creative solutions. Marketing also expands to new avenues and targeted customer bases. Work culture, in general, becomes more vibrant when diverse representation has a seat at the table.
What can we do going forward? Well, it starts with education. It’s time to rethink how we cultivate the minds of our young ones. Interest in STEM fields should always be encouraged for both young boys and young girls to pursue. Exposure to communities passionate about bridging the gender gap in STEM fields is also a great idea. (See: Igniteworldwide.org, Girlsintech.org, or Girlswhocode.com.) Maybe instead of only telling your daughter or niece, “You look pretty”, consider telling her “You’re a smart girl” every once in a while. We also need to be dedicated to bringing more women into leadership positions in STEM. It takes the mindset of an entire village of committed leadership to bring awareness and progress – and we’re on the right track. We need to continue to do our best to prepare the next generation of girls to be smart, driven, and badass STEM professionals.
For now, I’m going to celebrate with some OKWIT gals, my favorite local badasses. Women in STEM have been paramount to my personal and professional development, and I can’t thank the organization enough. Cheers!