My experience as a woman in STEM
When I was younger (and even during my first two years of high school), I never really understood why encouraging women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) was such a big deal. It seemed that in all my classes, including my STEM classes, there were about the same number of girls as there were boys. From freshman year Integrated Science to junior year AP Biology, the difference wasn’t very apparent. Similarly, from Geometry Honors to AP Calculus BC, I didn’t see much of a difference either. At the time, I didn’t realize this but, I guess what made these classes so even in terms of the representation of boys and girls was that they were courses commonly taken to meet a general education requirement. For example, at my high school, students are required to take three credits of science, with one of those being a biology class. It’s very common for students to take AP Biology their junior year. Therefore, it makes sense that there were about the same number of boys and girls in my AP Biology class.
However, as I began taking more advanced math and science courses, such as Linear Algebra and AP Physics 2, the number of girls in my classes began to drastically dwindle. During my junior year, boys significantly outnumbered the girls in my Linear Algebra class at the university. Similarly, my AP Physics 2 class during my senior year only had four girls in a group of about 25 students. Being someone who has loved STEM courses and plans to pursue a STEM-related career, these observations make me wonder: Are most girls simply not interested in STEM? Or do they feel too intimidated and secluded to take such classes and pursue a career in the field?
We still think that Women just aren’t good at STEM
I did some research, and according to statistics gathered by the National Girls Collaborative Project, males are more likely to take advanced level AP exams (such as Calculus BC, Physics B, and Physics C). Women comprise only 29% of the science and engineering workforce, and gender disparities begin to emerge (especially for minority women) more and more as individuals move from undergraduate education to more school or a career. This is an issue that is more visible in particular fields, and there are many environmental and social barriers that continue to slow down women’s progress in STEM.
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), many people claim that they do not believe the stereotype that women aren’t as good as men at math and science. However, there are still implicit biases that exist. These unconscious beliefs underlie negative stereotypes and influence people’s assumptions about women. People still believe that women are better in the arts compared to STEM, an area people implicitly associate with men being better at. However, this is not necessarily true. There have been several women who have made major discoveries and have left lasting marks on the STEM field. It is evident that women are just as capable as men in achieving success in the STEM field. Many individuals argue that the first step to tackle this issue is to recognize and understand that these unconscious beliefs exist, and I agree. Only by realizing that we are implicitly making judgments can we change our thinking.
Women in STEM are increasing their representation
Additionally, the AAUW discusses how a growth mindset benefits girls, especially in math and science. By believing that intelligence can be developed over time, girls are able to embrace any challenges or obstacles they may face during their journey in these fields. This makes it more likely for them to learn from others and continue to stay involved in their field(s). I think it is important to encourage girls to develop a growth mindset from an early age because it helps build confidence and prevents the development of unrealistic self-expectations that can cause long term harm.
Finally, mentorship is crucial. Through programs like resource groups, women can feel less isolated in the classroom or their workplace. Over time, this can help them feel valued and encourage them to continue making a difference in their field. Being exposed to strong, female STEM figures from a young age can also help young women view a career in STEM as an interesting and attractive potential option for them in the future, which can help increase the involvement of women in STEM.
I’m curious to see how I will experience gender disparities and implicit biases against women that exist in STEM in the years to come. I know that I shouldn’t let my gender stop me from achieving my dreams, and I should take advantage of mentorship opportunities and have a growth mindset to help me get through any potential issues I may face along the way. Women are powerful, and I am confident that they will continue to make a difference in STEM.
GirlSpring is helping bring STEM to young women, read about our third annual STEM fair!