Where are all the women?

Over the weekend I attended the induction ceremony at JMU for Upsilon Pi Epsilon which is the International Honor Society for the Computing and Information Disciplines. My boyfriend was among the students who were inducted into the society, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had a reason to be the ceremony. As I looked around the room on that Sunday afternoon, a majority of the initiates were male. Computer Science at JMU is a largely male dominated major with most of its professors also being male. My boyfriend has mentioned that on average in his 30 person classes he has less than 5 women in each of the courses. Since I have been at JMU I have always noticed that STEM courses and STEM majors have a significantly smaller number of women in classes than the other majors at JMU. These numbers have a large effect on how many women ultimately go into the STEM workforce. 

In the US in 2020 women held only 25% of computing and mathematical jobs which is extremely low since nearly 74% of girls express some sort of desire to have a career in STEM. In physical science (40%), computer (25%), and engineering (15%) jobs women tend to also be the most underrepresented. Sadly these numbers don’t really shock me. When I saw how few women were being inducted into UPE for the Spring 2022 semester, I realized how much of a problem this was for the future of women in STEM. At JMU women are in the majority of undergraduate students. In fall of 2020, the gender distribution was 42% male and 58% female. With numbers like that, there should be more than about 5 women in each 30-person Computer Science course. 

Image: Unsplash.com

I often wondered why not as many women decide to pursue STEM degrees when so many girls express interest at a young age. I realized after taking multiple feminist classes that it’s because of the way society has pushed women to take on more “feminine professions” in the workforce. I was never pushed to take computer or engineering courses in high school so I never even considered those degrees when I got to college. Women are constantly expected to go into professions that are nurturing and creative because of the idea that women will one day take care of the children at home. I have already started to see some changes occurring in my generation with the number of women interested in STEM professions, but I don’t know if big tech companies will follow with the trend.

Another statistic that shocked me was that in the start of the 2020 pandemic, women in tech companies were almost twice as likely to leave their jobs, be laid off, or become furloughed. This doesn’t allow for women to feel empowered to continue entering the STEM workforce because they may feel as though they are replaceable. Women may even feel unwanted in tech companies after seeing how other women were treated in the start of the pandemic. 

While I was attending the UPE induction ceremony, something that really did make me proud as a woman AND as a feminist was that out of the 3 people running the ceremony, 2 of them were women. The President of the society is a woman, and the secretary is a woman. While there were only a handful of women being inducted into the society, I was excited to see women taking on these strong roles in the organization. When I see women in STEM in positions of authority I get a sense of hope for the future of technology jobs. Fewer than 20% of women hold leadership of executive positions in the tech industry, but that Sunday afternoon showed hope and hope is all that we can do.

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