The science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields have historically been dominated by men. Although there are increased numbers of women working in STEM, there continues to be a lack of female representation. It was reported earlier this year that women comprise of just 28 percent of employed science and engineering professionals.
Why Women Leave STEM
For the women that go on to pursue careers in STEM, more than half leave them within a decade, which is close to twice the frequency of men in those fields. There have been many different reasons that have been introduced in regards to this occurrence, one being a difference in values between men and women. Whereas men focus more on short-term items such as cost reduction, hierarchy, and resource constraints, women value accountability, balance, continuous improvement, coaching/mentoring and empowerment. Although men also find bureaucracy and hierarchy to impede their achievement, they are more likely to endure the dissatisfaction and continue working. Women, on the other hand, tend to leave for another career when they encounter unnecessary obstacles in their work.
Another reason associated with women leaving STEM jobs is sexual harassment. This is more prevalent in Silicon Valley, where 60% of women have reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior and 90% have witnessed sexist behavior at company offsites and/or industry conferences. More statistics from the report can be found here.
Additionally, there is the perception that women do not have the traits needed to succeed in science. In a study done by Wellesley College, women were viewed as having communal characteristics such as caring and unselfish, whereas men were associated with agentic characteristics including competitiveness and courageousness. The study revealed that people tend to associate scientists with agentic characteristics and that women appear to be incompatible with science. These cultural stereotypes are creating barriers for the women of today and future generations of women that aspire to be engineers or scientists.
Shaping the Future of Girls in STEM
In recent years, there has been a push for not only increased STEM programs in schools, but also programs tailored to girls to peak their interest and open their eyes to new opportunities. Misha Malyshev and employees from his company, Teza Technologies, support many organizations including buildOn, Adler Planetarium, After-School All-Stars and After School Matters that provide programs that inspire young children to dream of being future engineers or coders. Such programs include Girls Do Hack, Hack Day, Noble STEM Expo, Hour of Code, STEM CampUs, and Junior Research Scientists. Throughout the programs, girls can gain confidence by supporting each other, build a network of peers and find mentors/role models. It’s through these and similar programs where they hopefully begin to break through barriers – where their thoughts are heard, their actions are admired and they are no longer looked upon as inferior.