2018 Women in Engineering Empowerment Essay – Yun Qi Charyl Tan

Grateful as I am for the numerous efforts to promote women in STEM, I feel that such efforts have limited results. Looking past differences in financial incentives and college degrees, I find the vital issue to lie in stereotypes. Many women turn away from heavily-male dominated fields because they don’t feel as though they fit[i]. Hence, companies try to hire and retain women[ii]so women at high levels can be role models, making it less intimidating for other women to join the field. However, these women are not approachable or relatable to other women and this does little to impact technical biases ingrained in females since young.

Simultaneously, many programmes that redress gender imbalance targeted at 15-year-olds might be more useful for an even younger age group[iii]. Hence, attempting to change such stereotypes in the workplace is far too late. We must change the mindsets of future generations from young. Otherwise, it might be difficult to pinpoint whether girls are being left out of STEM fields due to ability or social construct, given that girls who link STEM subjects with boys will understandably spend less time studying these subjects[iv]. It is important to note that breaking gender stereotypes necessarily goes both ways; We must encourage boys to explore traditionally girl-dominated subjects just as we encourage girls to explore the STEM field.

One way to explore this is to break down how stereotypes form. Our minds are hard-wired to categorize information and create mental shortcuts to retain knowledge easily and provide some structure in a chaotic universe[v]. With that, it is easy to make mental links of certain subjects to genders. I would propose that we invalidate the whole concept of a subject to younger children. In doing so, children can learn topics or phenomena based on their own interests without the pressures of what stereotypes say about these fields.Such abolition of subjects in schools have been adopted by countries like Finland, which is world-renowned for education[vi]. While there are anticipated issues with such education systems, such as the lack of sufficient deep knowledge to enable future higher learning6, keeping such systems at the earlier stages of education can be useful in helping children understand their own interests. After they are more certain of their passions such that stereotypical notions are less able to affect their choices, subject-based education can be introduced to facilitate deeper learning.