Hello NJ TSA!
I want to acknowledge a problem plaguing the STEM community; a problem that spans from college to career. The STEM community is seriously lacking female representation. Despite earning 57.3% of bachelor’s degrees in all fields, women only receive a small percentage of degrees in many STEM-related fields of study. To name a few, women receive 17.9% of computer sciences degrees, 19.3% of engineering degrees, 39% of physical sciences degrees and 43.1% of mathematics degrees. In the workforce, it isn’t much better. Women are half of the college-educated workforce, yet only hold 29% of STEM-related positions. Women are especially lacking in engineering (15%) and mathematical science (25%).
While there is evidently an underrepresentation of women in the STEM field, many may question why this is important. Women are choosing not to enter the STEM field, right?
Well, not quite. When the statistics are this drastic, it cannot be chalked up to coincidental personal choice. Instead, we must look at the culture. From a young age, girls are less likely to be encouraged to enter the STEM field. Society favors boys in STEM, which can make it difficult for girls. For example, toys marketed to boys tend to be innovation-based while toys marketed towards girls tend to reinforce existing stereotypes. Boys get to build things and use pretend tool boxes while girls take care of baby dolls and use pretend kitchens. Additionally, the language used with young girls is often very different from the language used for young boys. After engineering something while playing, young girls are less likely to hear someone say “you should be an engineer.” These subtle differences can make a huge difference in how girls see themselves and their talents. Without cultural supports guiding them, girls can often feel overwhelmed and underprepared when entering the STEM field.
Besides being unfair to girls, underrepresentation can have serious repercussions within the STEM field. By discouraging half the population, we are missing the ideas of many innovative minds. People who could be trailblazers within their fields are stopped before they even start. Even more shocking is the biases this can foster. A lack of representation in careers often equates to a lack of representation in research. For example, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women of all ages in the United States. Heart attacks for women are very different than heart attacks for men. Despite this known difference, women are often left out of research, causing the STEM field to suffer from a lack of knowledge and women to suffer from a lack of care. This trend occurs all too often.
The good news? This is a problem we can solve. Studies have shown that many girls start to lose confidence and interest in the STEM field during middle school. By introducing girls to TSA in middle school, we can deter the effects of cultural stigma by giving them an outlet to learn more about STEM-related topics and the opportunity to meet female role models in the STEM community. As these young girls grow up, they will become leaders, both within TSA and within their respective fields, and young girls will look to them for encouragement. This cyclical relationship will help foster the talents of girls. As we pave the way for ourselves, we also unknowingly pave the way for others. Through bettering ourselves we better our entire community.
LCOD All Females by Race/Ethnicity 2015 – Women’s Health – CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/women/lcod/2015/race-ethnicity/index.htm
Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ngcproject.org/statistics
Why Women Should Pursue STEM Education. (2017, October 06). Retrieved from https://www.ncu.edu/blog/why-women-should-pursue-stem-education#gref