Women in STEM Fields – Part III: Why we need women in STEM and what we can do

By Guest Contributor Aparna Ramen

Why Do We Need Women in STEM Fields?

  • Attracting and retaining more women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce will maximize innovation, creativity, and competitiveness.
  • Many STEM fields are high-growth fields.

o      Many science and engineering occupations are predicted to grow faster than the average rate for all occupations over the next decade.1

o      Some of the largest increases will be in engineering- and computer-related fields—fields in which women currently hold one-quarter or less of the positions. When women aren’t in these fields, they lose out on the job and financial security that these high-growth, high-pay fields provide.1

  • Scientists and engineers are working to solve some of the most difficult challenges of our time, and engineers design many of the things we use daily. When women are not involved in science and engineering, experiences, needs, and desires that are unique to women may be overlooked. (I highly recommend reading Unlocking the clubhouse: Women in computing by Margolis and Fisher for some excellent examples).

o      Ex. 1 – A predominantly male group of engineers tailored the first generation of automotive airbags to adult male bodies, resulting in avoidable deaths for women and children.2

o      Ex. 2 – Workplace systems are built around male models. Some early voice-recognition systems were calibrated to typical male voices and resulted in women’s voices remaining unheard.Similarly early video conferencing systems automatically focused only on male speakers, excluding input from women.2

o      Ex. 3 – A mostly male group of engineers designed artificial heart valves sized to the male heart.2

o      “Women must be part of the design teams who are reshaping the world, if the reshaped world is to fit women as well as men.”2

  • STEM jobs pay better than many other jobs, and women should have access to those higher-paying jobs.
  • Pay equity & closing the wage gap: Occupational segregation accounts for the majority of the gender wage gap, and although women still earn less than men earn in science and engineering fields, the more women have access to jobs in these fields (many of which remain predominantly male), the greater the likelihood that the gender pay gap will shrink as occupational segregation decreases.1

What We Can Do

  • Actively recruit women into STEM majors
  • Provide intensive and supportive academic and career counseling for students in STEM fields.
  • Include more research and teaching assistantships, positions, and grants for women in STEM fields, especially graduate degrees.
  • Plan community events and support groups for women in STEM fields.
  • Pay attention to gender when recruiting, hiring, and promoting staff and faculty in STEM fields.
  • Serve on diversity-related committees to help promote equity on campus.
  • Find out what percentages of faculty and staff in STEM departments are women or women of color and discuss this with colleagues.
  • Conduct departmental reviews to assess the climate for female faculty
  • Support faculty work-life balance

o      Ex. Providing on-site quality daycare

  • Ensure mentoring for all faculty
  • Be a mentor to women students and young women professionals in STEM fields.
  • Encourage women around you to pursue positions, roles, or careers in STEM fields.
  • Give scholarships and awards and help to fund initiatives for women in STEM fields.
  • Avoid bias and spreading negative stereotypes about women in STEM and speak out if you hear them voiced by others. (Take the “Gender-Science IAT” bias test to identify and understand your own biases)
  • Raise awareness of bias against women in STEM fields
  • Teach professors about stereotype threat and the benefit of a growth mindset
  • Teachers and professors can reduce reliance on stereotypes by making performance standards and expectations clear.1
  • Expose women and girls to successful female role models in STEM fields

References:

1. Hill, C., Corbett, C., & Rose, A. S. (2010). “Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: AAUW.

2. Margolis, J.,& Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the clubhouse: Women in computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp 2-8.

Aparna Ramen is a volunteer research assistant at the Women’s Center and an undergraduate neuroscience major at the University of Minnesota. Her goals include a career in scientific research and medicine. With a passion for science, philosophy, social justice, and feminism, and experience dealing with and overcoming disability, she also hopes to encourage other young women to overcome their setbacks and pursue their dreams.

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