(HS Insider)
El Camino Real Charter

Opinion: How to address the gender gap in the STEM field

The field of science, technology, engineering and math is without a doubt, one of the fastest-growing fields in our society.

Each aspect of STEM has some form of impact on our day-to-day lives. Our medicine, our devices, the apps on our phones, our tech products, and almost everything that we use on a daily basis comes from the STEM field.

STEM has had increased demand in recent years, given the growing modernization and dependence on technology. The importance of the field is only furthered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our entire lives have been downsized to the four walls of our home and our only form of communication is through our devices.

We’ve used video conferencing apps like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams at unprecedented levels. We’ve heavily used streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO Max. We’ve relied on our social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook like never before.

The solution to this pandemic lies in the science and the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. The engineering of automated processes such as robots and self-checkout protects our essential workers and makes it easier for consumers to shop. In a time where our society has had to quarantine in our own homes and proceed with life through a screen, the importance of the STEM field and its impacts cannot be understated. 

As many fields have historically been, STEM is heavily male-dominated. In the status quo, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women only make up 28% of the STEM field and the gap is particularly high in the fastest-growing sectors such as computer science and engineering. 

The lack of women in the workforce isn’t a new concept; it’s been prevalent for an extremely long time. The only difference in this situation is that the gender gap is exacerbated by societal views and norms. STEM is seen as a masculine field and from day one, teachers and parents underestimate girls’ math/technical abilities.

More so, many female teachers themselves always discuss their struggle with math and, indirectly and directly, pass that on to young girls.  Because the field has been male-dominated for so long, the cultures fostered in these environments are in no way inclusive or supportive of women or minorities. This leads to the issue of representation – many girls and young women have fewer role models and mentors to look up to. All of these factors can directly discourage and negatively affect one’s confidence and willingness to go into the field. 

As we’ve seen, the gender gap is rooted in society’s views on the STEM field. The only way to truly solve the gap is to destigmatize and normalize those societal views as well as to implement programs and events that are aimed at fixing the issue. When both those go in hand in hand, we can see a real change in the number of women in the STEM field. However, the main ways to solve the gender gap are outlined below: 

 

1. Give girls the skills and confidence to succeed in math and science. 

Confidence is key for anything in life, so we, as a society, need to start by showing women that they are confident and capable of doing well in math and science. This starts by raising awareness both inside and outside the classroom – all of which will slowly shift societal perspective. 

 

2. Improve STEM education, support, and resources that are available to young girls through K-12 education.

Everything starts in schools. We need to provide professional development and teaching to teachers so they can teach STEM-related content. More so, we need to change curriculum to incorporate more math and science content/projects and similarly, increase the amount of STEM-related after-school activities and programs. 

 

3. Recruit women into STEM fields in colleges and universities. 

College is a stepping stone for many before going into their respective careers. By designing more college courses geared towards STEM and making more diverse environments at colleges, female students may feel more encouraged to go into these majors. STEM needs to be treated as an equitable major, so Title IX needs to be fully enforced in these areas. 

 

4. Improve job hiring and promotion pathways. 

More women need to be recruited by companies and companies need to continue providing strong professional development and leadership training. The work environments in these companies need to be fair, equal, diverse, and inclusive. 

If the STEM field could be summarized in one word, it’d be the “future.” Science, technology, engineering, and math are not going away anytime soon. If anything, they are the reason that we will have a future. It’s up to us, as a society and as the next generation, to make sure that each and every single person, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, has the means to contribute to that very future. And that starts with working to close the gender gap. 

This Women’s History Month, encourage more of your female peers, classmates, family, and friends to pursue STEM-related programs, activities, and potentially even, careers. Women across the world need to take a stand and challenge historically male-dominated fields. Let’s make that change and let’s start with STEM.