It’s Not Rocket Science: Women in STEM

“Three things happen when they [females] are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”
– Tim Hunt

Developments in science and technology have catapulted to new heights, and only continue to garner momentum. Yet, the progression of inclusion of diversity within heavily male-dominated fields has not made nearly the same strides. This past summer, Tim Hunt, a British biochemist and a Novel Prize winner, expressed troubling opinions about females in the science lab. The backlash and criticism from the “light-hearted, ironic comment” sparked discussions and outcries of gender issues and provided a platform for #DistractinglySexy to take off. The feminist online magazine Vagenda called out female scientists for pictures of themselves at work sporting the trending hashtag (which you should totally check out because they’re hilarious).

Sadly, this sort of perception towards women in STEM and other male dominated fields does not come at a shock at all. In this article, it states that, “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations. They comprise 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers and just 12 percent of civil engineers.”

According to the statistics of the National Girls Collaborative Project, among POC’s the numbers are even worse:

  • Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians/Alaska Natives make up a smaller share of the science and engineering workforce, with 10% of workers in science and engineering occupations and 13% of science and engineering degree holders in 2011, than their proportion in the general population, with 26% of U.S. population age 21 and older.
  • Minority women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers.
  • Within every S&E occupation, more than half of all workers are non-Hispanic whites.
©Vitamin W Media 2011
©Vitamin W Media 2011

It’s a cycle. Eileen Pollack writes in her compelling article that, “Maybe boys care more about physics and computer science than girls do. But an equally plausible explanation is that boys are encouraged to tough out difficult courses in unpopular subjects, while girls, no matter how smart, receive fewer arguments from their parents, teachers or guidance counselors if they drop a physics class or shrug off an AP exam.”

Due to the underrepresentation of women in these male-dominated fields, STEM specifically, it cultivates a culture that categorizes and stigmatizes the roles of women even within the professional playing field. In the article, Sarah Richardson, a postdoctoral student in synthetic biology at the University of California-Berkley, discovered that “The first thing they always say to me is, ‘You don’t look like a scientist. At first I thought it was funny. But it stopped being funny when I realized my career was suffering because my colleagues also thought I didn’t look like a scientist.” By embracing my feminine identity and look, does that disqualify me from pursuing paths in STEM? Lauren Talbot, Co-founder and Chief Data Officer of advisorCONNECT, stated in this article that “The most difficult thing about being a female tech entrepreneur is that there is a disconnect between your female identity as you are socialized and perceived, and the persona you are aiming to project professionally. That is an illness of society and not your fault as a woman, but it is still a problem for you.”

So, here’s to all the young girls who dream of the stars in the sky and the microorganisms in the lake. To the ones who, even when they close their eyes, see messes of numbers and mathematical symbols. Or the ones who take apart computers and puts them back together again for fun. More access to STEM education and a change in society’s views of women in the context of STEM needs to be implemented. And we’ll fight for it. Stay humble and hustle hard.

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