With advancements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), almost every aspect of human life has improved. However, many of the world’s biggest problems may be going unsolved because too many women and girls are being discouraged from entering STEM fields.Â
UNESCO researchOpens a new window highlights that less than a third of all female students choose STEM-related subjects in higher education, while just three percent of women choose information communications technology (ICT) subjects. UNESCO also points out how â€œNumerous studies have found that women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less for their research and do not progress as far as men in their careers.â€ In the United States, women are leading in obtaining college degrees overall, but when it comes to STEM fields, only 35% earn undergraduate degrees.
Most scientific research treats male as the norm
From crash test dummies to imagining heart attack victims, women suffer in a world that is designed around males. Since the past few decades,Â heart attacks for women have been on the rise and men on the decline. But if you were to imagine a heart attack victim, who would you imagine? According to researchOpens a new window , cardiovascular disease is often considered a â€œman’s disease,â€ leaving a majority of women being underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Even though women are more likely to buy iPhones than men, the average smartphone size is now 5.5 inches. Apple was heavily criticized for designing phones that are too big for women’s hands.
Women are underrepresented in STEM
In the US, women hold just 29 percent of STEM jobs although they make up 50 percent of the college-educated workforce. When this is broken down by field, numbers fall even further with women making up to 25 percent of computer scientists and just 15 percent of engineers.
Research Opens a new window also indicates that women are just as good in academics as men in STEM subjects, but the misperception persists that women are intellectually inferior to men when it comes to STEM.
Psychological factors can dissuade women from joining STEM
UNESCO calls it the â€œleaky pipelineâ€ of lost talent. Girls are attracted to science at school and eventually make up the majority of science graduates with bachelor degrees. Studies suggest that even at the master’s level, women make up the majority. But at the PhD level, there is a dramatic drop and the gap widens even further at the research level.
While there can be many reasons why there are so few women in the field, a report published by Stanford University suggests that negative stereotypes affect women in academic settings to the point that they start doubting their own ability in comparison to men. Researcher Angela Saini speaks of the â€œImposter Syndromeâ€ and highlights that young girls depart from scientific careers because making their way into male-dominated careers seems a lot more challenging and that women are under pressure to perform better and prove their legitimacy.
Gender diversity has become a buzzword with the #genderdiversity being used for everything from salary disparity to sexual harassment cases, and rightly so. But the need for women in science goes far beyond the issues of fairness, transparency and ethics. There is credible evidence to demonstrate that:
- Gender balance improves collective intelligence in teams and scientific research becomes more accurate and wholistic.
- Men and women resort to different problem-solving approaches and bring unique perspectives to research and scientific conversation.
How can you encourage women to enter and stay in STEM careers?Â 5 areasÂ to focus
- Start young: Given the pervasive nature of such stereotypes, parents and teachers should step in and shield girls from believing that they’re less intellectually capable and therefore less suited for STEMOpens a new window . Â
- Highlight women in STEM: Stereotypes can also be challenged by exposing children to examples of women who have succeeded in STEM.
- Redesign our education system: Encouraging female students in elementary school by calling on them in class, motivating them, taking their questions seriously and making sure they see the possibilities of STEM careers. There are lesson plans available to address this issue. Introduce policies and incentives for women who want to join a STEM career.
- Collect data and expose gender gaps: Government and institutions should monitor gender gaps closely and highlight differences inÂ the experiences of women and men working in STEM careers such as relative pay, working conditions, access to research funds, etc.
- Find creative ways to encourage STEM and promote awareness: Educational institutes, governments, corporates, our society at large, are in a great position to dispel stereotypes that discourage females from joining STEM careers. One of the best ways of doing that is by dedicating resources to creating an environment that nurtures and supports.
At our recent global conference, my company worked with non-profits, employees and channel partners to educate attendees about intelligent workspace solutions that combine commonly used desktop applications in a single interface, making the user experience intuitive. We helped assemble 1,500 â€œDIY Inventor’s Boxesâ€ and built 20 Computers 4 Kids to introduce coding to students. The computers were then donated to help create awareness and get children excited about STEM. Â
In our view, diversity and inclusion is about creating a welcoming workspace where people are encouraged to speak out from their own life experiences, to share their unique viewpoints as contributors. Our global workforce spans multiple generations representing more than 35 languages across 40 countries. Our D&I efforts extend outside the organization as well to help close the gender gap in technology. My company sponsors a program called â€œGirls Who Codeâ€, a summer immersion program that has already taught 90,000 girls in 50 states to write apps and websites and to showcase these achievements at our customer conferences.
The benefits of encouraging women in STEM can be shared by the whole society, regardless of one’s gender. Are you doing your bit?