Why STEM Careers Are So Hard for Women to Get (and What to Do About It)
Updated: May 27, 2022
Science, technology, engineering, and math are all necessary in our world. But, these industries have historically been dominated by men while early education, childcare, and nursing careers are traditionally reserved for women. Things are changing, but there still remains a gender disparity in STEM careers. If you are a woman interested in STEM, today's Structured Strategies blog is for you and looks at how women can overcome the challenges of finding a STEM career.
Competition is one of the major barriers to entry in virtually all STEM sectors. The more
educated the workforce, the more people there are to apply for these highly specialized
positions. This means fewer seats are open. One solution here is to make yourself stand out with an advanced degree. Consider enrolling in a master’s program, which can give you more credibility by showcasing your willingness to learn new things, which is crucial in STEM. Before you sign up for classes, do your research, and choose a reputable and accredited program that recruiters will recognize and respect.
Growing up, girls are given dolls, boys are given toy trucks. While there are certainly biological differences between males and females that might influence the types of toys that a child prefers and how they play with them, boys tend to feel more pressure to exhibit “masculine” behaviors early on. Girls typically don’t show a preference for a specific toy type until about the age of five. Parents can help reduce some of this gender bias by offering their children a range of toys. This does not mean that parents should push traditionally “male” toys on their female children, but that more “gender-neutral” options, such as building sets and art supplies, may help reduce the subconscious ideology that women are not meant to work with their hands or their brains. Interestingly, and as The Conversation reports, Lego recently made the decision to remove gender stereotypes from its products, which may have a positive influence on all children.
Thanks to competition, gender bias, and even sexism, women – and especially women of color – are woefully underrepresented in stem careers. This, despite the fact that 24% of doctorate degrees in 2019 were awarded in STEM fields to black women. Currently, less than 5% of science and technology management positions are filled by this demographic. The US Census Bureau further reports that women of all races only make up about 27% of the STEM workforce. While this is certainly an improvement from the 70s and 80s, it is still discouraging for young girls to look at their preferred careers only to see men in the roles they wish to hold. Parents, educators, and employers can help circumvent some of this discouragement by showcasing the contributions of women in these areas.
Young girls often face academic biases as early as elementary school. These can linger into adulthood as the direct and indirect messages that boys simply do better in technology can dampen a young woman’s confidence in high school and college. Academic institutions can better help all students discover and maintain an interest in various career options by instructing educators, guidance counselors, and mentors to better listen to what the student wants instead of looking at what their demographic has pursued historically. Confidence may also be gained by allowing girls to participate in mixed-sex STEM projects, camps, and programs where they are given equal opportunities to learn and engage in these fields.
Women In STEM’s History
Although men make up the majority of stem careers, women should continue to be lauded for their contributions throughout the ages. Here, we take a look at just two of the brightest minds in history in the hopes that their stories encourage women today to fight against stereotypes.
Katherine Johnson was born before women ever had the opportunity to vote. She was a
physicist, NASA scientist, and mathematician who, with the assistance of Dorothy Vaughan, was responsible for the mathematical calculations of the Friendship 7’s 1962 space mission. As an African-American woman, the odds were stacked heavily against her, but she knew what she wanted, and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions.
Just a year older than Johnson, Joan Clarke was another pioneer. A code breaker and master mathematician, Clarke was the only female assigned to break the famous German Enigma ciphers used by Nazis during World War II. The extent of her contributions may never be fully known as much of the work done by her team, which also included three other women, remains shrouded as one of the greatest military secrets of all time.
Only the actions of women today can change the face of STEM tomorrow. If you are a young woman looking to get into a science, technology, engineering, or math role, don’t let stereotypes get in your way. Remember, you are every bit as capable, and, in following your dream, you may pave the way for the next generation of young women to change the world.
Are you looking for a management consultant that can help you grow and nurture your
business? Look no further than Structured Strategies. For more information about our services, contact us directly at 412.557.2966.
Guest Writer, Mark Harris
Photo by Ali Pazani from Pexels