West High School offers a variety of clubs and extracurricular pertaining to science and engineering, like Science Olympiad and Robotics, as well classes like Intro to Engineering and AP Computer Science Principles. These courses have become extremely popular among students of all ages and are only continuing to grow.
However, much like real life, these classes and organizations tend to attract more males than females and often, many female students struggle to find their voice in increasingly male-dominated scenarios.
“There’s only about five girls in our almost 20 person class. Being one of the few girls kind of makes me feel inferior,” junior Nikita Gounder, who is taking an introduction to engineering class, said.
The gender difference becomes especially apparent in more informal club settings.
One female student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is one of five female members of the 36 member robotics team and is the only female board member. She believes that the gender ratio affects the ability of female members to contribute to the team and realize their potential.
“It’s just a thing where boys tend to talk to boys and vice-versa. You feel left out,” she said. “All the head of departments are male so they can be more inclined to give work to other guys. They’re also less likely to take into account other people’s opinion. For example, I remember one time where we had to cut a part, a simple job, and one of the heads asked a guy who already had three tasks to do it instead of asking someone else.”
Sadly, the hardships female students face in STEM settings aren’t just a problem in high school. Women make up almost 47% of the total workforce in the United States, yet women only make up 29% of the workforce in science and engineering fields and only 15% of the workforce in most engineering fields, according to a 2016 study by the National Science Foundation.
And those who are in STEM fields often feel like they have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts in order to prove their worth and combat negative stereotypes.
Women in STEM face discrimination at almost every step of their lives, but this is still not an irremediable problem and in fact is probably best fixed at its root: K-12 education. If you’re a female student, then try to take more opportunities in science and engineering and don’t let negative stereotypes or a lack of fellow females stop you from achieving your goals.
If you’re a male student, be mindful of your behavior towards your classmates, regardless of gender, and call others out for improper behavior. After all, who knows how many Mark Zuckerbergs and Steve Jobs have been lost due to a lack of female inclusion in STEM fields.