Preconceived notions of women in male-dominated STEM fields need changing

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 at 4:59 PM

STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, has become a major topic in the United States recently, as we see a shift away from blue collar jobs and toward white collar jobs. But this shift is not showing equal amounts of people joining from each gender. 

“Women have made up more than 50 percent of college students across the country for some time now. So it stands to reason that there would be more women in all majors.  Unfortunately this is not always the case. Fewer women are graduating with engineering degrees today than when I was in college in the early 1980s,” said Dr. Lisa Unico, a professor in Edinboro’s chemistry department. 

According to research published by the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) in fall 2017, women fill 47 percent of all U.S. jobs as of 2015, but only hold 24 percent of STEM jobs. Oddly enough though, women hold just as many undergraduate degrees as men in those fields, but only hold 30 percent of the jobs.

As of the most recent OCE report, 30.2 percent of women have earned a bachelor’s degree, while only 29.9 percent of men have earned one. 

However, men ultimately dominate the STEM field which may often cause young women to steer away, because it is viewed as male-dominated, which isn’t wrong. 

“Seeing role models in the front of the classroom goes a long way in building the confidence of the women students,” said Unico. “In my 21 years here, we have always had three or four women professors, and our department has never had more than nine members total.” 

This sort of representation is often a reason for women to go into the STEM fields, but more often than not, these women end up working in education or healthcare over their intended fields.

“Edinboro definitely supports all women in science. I studied abroad with the school to do conservation work in Africa and every single student that went was female. When I did research with Dr. Peter Lindeman down south, the other student was also female, and right now the other Edinboro student interning at Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is female! There’s definitely a strong female presence on campus,” said Chelsea Gale, a general biology major who intends on pursuing a career in her field post-graduation.

While it may seem strange that women wouldn’t take more of these jobs, as they make nearly 35 percent more money in STEM fields than they would in any other field, there are some who believe this to be more of a “don’t want to,” than a “can’t do” issue.

“Some would say that the gender STEM gap occurs not because girls can’t do science, but because they have other alternatives, based on their strengths in verbal skills,” said Janet Shibley Hyde, a gender-studies professor at the University of Wisconsin. “In wealthy nations, they believe that they have the freedom to pursue those alternatives and not worry so much that they pay less.”

As you might have guessed however, this idea that an excess of options is pushing women from the STEM fields versus gender discrimination, is not very popular and is generally rejected by most. This is largely due to the excess of evidence that there is a large amount of sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims within the STEM fields. 

Of the 1,225 women interviewed by the PEW Research Center, 78 percent have experienced gender discrimination at work and 48 percent have had a sexual harassment problem at work. These numbers completely invalidate the idea that women merely don’t want the jobs and makes me lean more toward these fields are purposefully pushing women away from joining.

Ultimately, the goal is to increase the rate of females entering these fields, as these are the fields that will continue to propel the United States into the future. In order to make this a reality, we must market these jobs as open to everyone and nurture the interests of young girls who might want to go into the fields in the future, because if we don’t start early, then when will we?

Roman Sabella can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com

Tags: voices

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