The role of women in STEM

The stereotypical “brogrammer” image that has been closely linked to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is slowly fading, thanks to the increasing number of programs that aim to spark the interest of women and close the wide gender gap that exists within these fields.

“Society discourages women from joining STEM fields, and to solve that, we need to increase the amount and quality of the curriculum available for girls as they grow up,” Senior Sid Venkateswaran said.

Although men and women are equally as likely to take the same science and math classes in high school, more men are expected to work in engineering-oriented jobs by the end of their senior year. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, an organization encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers, more females than males took advanced biology in their K-12 education, while an equal number of men and women took calculus. In higher education, however, this trend declined. A far smaller number of women participated in STEM field jobs: in 2012, only 22.3% of chemical engineers were women; a 2011 study found that one out of every seven engineers is a woman.

Today, some individuals blame the growing gender gap among the STEM fields on traditional gender stereotypes. These prejudices include the notion that woman should find “womanly” jobs in healthcare or education, while men are to find “manly” jobs, such as those involving engineering. Others point at the “nerdy” portrayal of computer scientists and programmers, claiming that such images inhibit the desire of women to consider such career fields.

“I think women aren’t as much as discouraged by the curriculum itself, but rather by the large number of men who take the class. It sort of makes women feel out of place,” Senior Maya Bunyan said.

However, organizations and programs such as Girls Who Code, Hackbright Academy, STEMinist, and MIT’s Women’s Technology Program are working to reverse this trend.

Girls Who Code, holds summer immersion programs, empowering and inspiring women across the U.S. to become interested in coding and writing programs. Supported by companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, the organization offers grants and provides technological equipment to its members. Hackbright Academy provides 10-week programs to prepare women to enter the workforce. Its “Moms in Tech” and “L’oreal Women in Digital” full scholarships give more women the chance to pursue careers in programming. About 67% of Hackbright’s first class received job offers from companies such as Cisco and Bump, and a tuition refund for getting hired provides graduates with incentive to work as programmers.

Through widespread efforts, womens’ involvement in STEM fields is slowly but surely increasing, moving society forward.

This article was part of the “Mathematics and Technology” theme of Last Word.