The representation of women in STEM fields has increased over the past few years, however the number of women in areas such as engineering, physics and computer science are still far behind. In 2009 only 24% of STEM related positions in the U.S were held by women. Currently, approximately 1 in 7 engineers are female. We as a society are losing the potential contributions of many brilliant women because they were trained that women in math and science were “undesirable”, or they simply were not taken seriously. This gender bias that exists in the STEM field has been passed down for generations, and it is long past time for that to change.
The underrepresentation of women in STEM originates from the influence of society at a young age. Many girls are raised believing that getting their hands dirty fixing things or building things is unladylike. Girls are not typically exposed to hands-on STEM related activities, as it is generally young boys who are expected to be interested in these areas. The girls who do end up developing an interest in conventionally male dominated fields such as automotive or computer science are often teased by their peers, and frequently end up hiding their interest as a result. This attitude that our society has towards women and what they should and should not be interested in acts as a barrier for getting young women involved in science and technology, as they come to believe that opportunities in these areas are not available to them or that they do not belong there.
In order to get more women involved in STEM, the social stigmas that surround women in technical fields need to be eradicated. This can be done by teaching the younger generations that it is completely normal for girls to be interested in math, science and technology. Programs or courses offered in schools should provide early exposure to STEM related fields for both young girls and boys in order to get children interested at a young age, and to also normalize the fact that anyone who is interested can pursue a career in STEM. During their developmental years, if children and young adults are taught that it is normal for both men and women to be involved in technical fields then the misconception that women are less suited for these positions will finally become a thing of the past.
Although the representation of women in STEM has improved, we as a society still have a long way to go before we reach a point where it is universally accepted as the norm. Stigmas still exist that dissuade many women from even considering STEM fields as an option. In order to break these preconceptions, children need to be taught from a young age that gender does not affect one’s ability or right to be involved in STEM. Once this happens, it will finally be recognized that women have the same potential to be great engineers, scientists or mathematicians as men do. Like actress and NASA Ambassador Nichelle Nichols said; “Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going.”