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Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics —————————

Maggie Reichard

Addressing the Gender Gap in Technical Fields

Abstract:

——————————————————————————————————————— Recent studies show that only one quarter of jobs in STEM fields are held by women. This project focuses on uncovering the reasons behind the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In addition, this report will discuss some potential solutions for closing this gap, and will explore which solutions are the most viable.

Introduction

One of the barriers in the way of gender equality in the workplace is the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In 2009, women, who made up 48% of the workforce, only accounted for 24% of jobs in STEM fields. While there has been much research on why this gap exists, it is also important to focus on how to make this gap smaller.

Methodology

The sources for this project fit into two primary categories, peer-reviewed articles and studies.

Studies The studies were helpful for determining the reasons for the problem, and also for comparing the effectiveness of solutions.

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for comparing the effectiveness of solutions. Page ! 2 One important study by the National Science

One important study by the National Science Foundation was very influencial for this report. This study looked at 3,000 pairs of British twins at ages 9, 10, and 12, and reviewed genetic and environmental factors that could impact scientific achievement. They discovered that there was no discernible difference in aptitude through these ages, and concluded that the problem relates to attitude, rather than aptitude. This study disproves the common myth that men’s brains are “wired for math and science.” Given the technological and social leaps our society has made, a surprisingly large amount of people continue to believe theories such as this one.

Articles In addition to the facts provided by studies, articles provided further insight into others’ personal experiences with the problem. One particularly helpful document was a presentation to the House of Representatives by the Committee on Science and Education. The official transcript of this hearing stated the experiences of several men and women working in STEM fields, and also discussed reasons for the gender gap, solutions, and ways to evaluate the effectiveness of these solutions. The experiences of these experts made it clear that the problem is not confined to one area of science, but spans many careers.

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One of these experts was Dr. Sandra R Hanson, a Professor of Sociology at Catholic University. Through her research, she disproves the idea that girls start out with less interest in science than boys. While both genders start out with the same interest and abilities in science, she shows that this begins to change around the second grade.

Considering the Problem

The Draw-A-Scientist-Test was designed to investigate children’s perceptions of scientists. When most children are asked to draw a picture of a scientist, they produce a picture of a middle-aged white male with a lab coat. Not only does this show a misrepresentation on the gender front, but it also shows a racial stereotype about science. These children are not exhibiting racism or sexism, but are instead showing implicit bias. This term refers to stereotypes and ideas we may not even be aware of perpetuating. Even though most children have never been explicitly told science is a field for white men, this idea can be imparted from a variety of places. To the right are two images of scientists draw by seventh graders who participated in this study.

draw by seventh graders who participated in this study. The National Science Foundation funded a study

The National Science Foundation funded a study at Colorado State University which showed that 66.0% of the images in elementary school science textbooks are of men. These studies are only one example of how young women are often turned away from STEM professions.

In high school, 47% of AP Calculus tests are taken by women, and 33% of AP Physics tests are taken by women. Statistics such as this one show that women neither lack aptitude for science and math, nor lack interest. This raises the question: If women are capable in science and math, why are so many choosing not to pursue STEM professions?

Solutions to the Problem

A statement by Ms. Cherryl T. Thomas, President and Founder of Ardmore Associates, LLC, provided some insight to the challenges of drawing women to STEM. Her suggestions include exposure at an early age, encouragement of ideas, and an end to the representation of the sciences as careers for male students.

Studies have shown that nurture, rather than nature, is crucial in keeping women interested in STEM. Parental support has great influence on whether young girls pursue math and science or

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turn away. The likelihood of a young woman to pursue STEM has a lot to do with the opinions of teachers, family, and friends.

Catching It Early

One of the most viable solutions would be to continue with Ms. Thomas’s idea of increasing exposure at an early age. While there a several ways to do this, one of the easiest would be to increase the number of women in these fields speaking in schools. This course of action could open doors for female youth who are still in the process of choosing their careers. Rather than reaching out to female students who are already involved in STEM, this option could show that both genders can equally excel in technical fields. Furthermore, this could positively affect any implicit bias students have about women working in STEM fields.

The course of action would not require any dramatic changes to previous academic operating systems. The only thing that would change would be the addition of a different demographic of speaker to school events. While the cost to pay the speaker is worth considering, this cost would be very reasonable when the potential benefits are weighed. If needed, these speakers could replace other speakers, and the costs would then balance out.

This solution would be desirable because it could potentially affect both female and male students before they have the chance to form biases or write off career options. The only potentially undesirable side effect would be that students could be unaffected by the change in speakers. However, it is likely that this would not be the case. Research has shown that speakers in schools focus on women in STEM, both male and female students are given the positive impression that women can excel in STEM fields.

Conclusion

While the gender gap in STEM is a problem, there are solutions to be considered. It is often made out to be the way things are, but this is a false assumption. Many of the arguments often used to explain the gap have little truth behind them, and only continue to perpetuate a stereotype. Rather than explaining why the problem exists, we should focus on rectifying it by applying some solutions.