Written By Shreya Hegde
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is a teaching philosophy that integrates all four disciplines together into a single, cross-disciplinary program that offers instruction in real-world applications and teaching methods. This requires a significant amount of creativity and broad thinking, as well as strong technical knowledge and harnessing the essential skills in each individual discipline. This campaign also sheds light on the inadequate number of teachers skilled to educate in this subject.
It’s a well-known fact that since ancient times the scholars, scientists, philosophers and people involved in mathematics and technology have predominantly been male. Very rarely it had occurred that a woman scientist had become a household name and her work was celebrated. Our society has indeed come a long way since then, today over half of all college graduates are female. In fact, women have been increasing their roles in leaps and bounds in recent years in many areas. But the participation of women in the field of science, math and technology is still evidently less than men. In STEM, men outnumber women vastly in number as women take up only 28% of the workforce. This really exposes us to the visible gender gap in the field that is considered most progressive and the key to economic growth in future.
If we go on searching for the root cause of this issue, it starts right from childhood. The myth that girls aren’t fit for a career in science and math are fed to a child’s brain, therefore a girl’s math abilities are undermined since preschool itself. Girls feel inadequate to boys and don’t feel good enough about displaying their skills. By the time students reach college, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors- for instance, only 21% of engineering majors are women and only 19% of computer and information science majors are women. This can only be rectified by the teachers in schools and colleges by enlightening students about the issue and making the girls break the barrier.
The next cause found is the generalized typecasts. Women are usually more highly represented in lower-paying fields such as literature, home sciences, health workers, nurses and the lower-paying specialities such as paediatricians. There is an internalized misogyny according to which women can’t possess the skill set as men no matter how much effort and hard work is applied, therefore if a man and a woman own the same educational qualification in science or its related area it’s more likely that the man will get recruited which clearly indicate the problem of existing patriarchal society.
Further, if we dig more, it’s now become a fact that women in STEM lack support as they are left out of professional meetings, there are inflexible work conditions, the notion that they should hide their pregnancies and on top of that they need to balance their work and family well and even after all this hustle men get paid more than women for the same amount of work done, which is problematic. Even maternity leaves are another issue at STEM. All these tough lifestyle choices just make STEM an unattractive and exhausting workplace for women promoting the widening of the gender gap.
Regardless of all this, we have women who have crossed all the hurdles and made it to STEM. When they shared their experience, the first observation they made was the absence of female professors in that space. Women, there have stated that the atmosphere there was kind of negative because it was more competitive, alienating and hostile rather than a positive outlook that they have made to STEM, leading to lower psychological well-being and poorer academic performance and perceptions. Female students have the extra load on them of being perfect all the time and they felt like they have to up their game and study more than men just because of their gender. The professors there who are supposed to be progressive than the rest of the society believe that a problem solved by a female should be double-checked by a male-only then the answer is valid making women question their own skills. A woman is always expected to be extra hardworking and one step ahead, which is surely motivating but also really draining. In spite of all this, women have no regrets about joining STEM.
Like a domino effect, as only a few women work in STEM, many young girls do not have any role model to look up to, which leads to girls not even being aware of this field which obviously makes STEM an inflexible, exclusionary, male-dominated culture that doesn’t support women and minorities. This creates an endless loop.
Though young girls have a scarcity of role models to follow, it’s not like women haven’t achieved anything in science and technology. There are many women who are lesser-known than others but their achievement is no less. For example, Barbara Askins (physical chemistry), Elizabeth Blackburn (cell biology), Cynthia Breazeal (computer science, robotics) and our very own Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (biochemistry) and many other women have paved their way in the field that attracted them the most.
Therefore the gender gap will stop us, women, only if we let it. The sheer determination and will to break all the stereotypes is the first step to take to enter STEM. When women uplift fellow women, then more women will get a chance to thrive in STEM, this will narrow the gender gap and enhance women’s financial security and ensures diversity, leading STEM to be more flexible in its work policy-making room for more women. This will surely not change in a fortnight but slow progress is still progress, only this process will make the young girls of next generation to not feel withdrawn from the subject they are interested in. One concept that everyone must understand is women participating in science or math is not just about women empowerment, it’s about women getting the luxury of choosing whatever they want to pursue without any judgment or pressure.
Featured Image Courtesy – Altran