2018 Women in Engineering Empowerment Essay – Mackenzie Roach

            Women have made significant strides in terms of increasing their participation in STEM fields in recent years. However, men still outnumber women in these areas for several reasons. In order to improve women’s representation in science and math occupations, society has to make a handful of changes such as increasing the prevalence of early-identification programs among middle and high schools, encouraging women to step out of the stereotypical female role by offering scholarships that help them pursue a higher education in a STEM field they want to go into, and creating a more accepting attitude towards unconventional job occupations in today’s modern society.

            Early identification programs provide students with the opportunity to get exposed to different areas of work from a young age. This allows them to try out various techniques in a plethora of occupations, which helps them narrow down their future career paths before they get to college where they are paying for every single class they take. In middle school, I remember taking a FACS class (Family and Consumer Science) where I learned how to cook/bake, iron clothes, care for a crying baby doll, and stitch together pillow cases from old t-shirts. When I went to high school, I enrolled in Project Lead the Way, a four-year-long introduction to engineering program. These two tracks had completely opposite focuses, which delayed my STEM education until high school. I did not realize it at the time, but my middle school FACS class was reinforcing societal stereotypes that women were expected to be housewives and caretakers. Luckily, I was able to take advantage of my high school’s CTE (Career and Technology Education) courses, but not all women are as lucky as me. More women would enter STEM fields if they had the opportunity to try out STEMpractices in middle school and high school through early-identification programs as opposed to old-fashioned confining courses such as FACS and similar classes. While this sounds like a great solution, it does not come without some obstacles, which may be why it is not already implemented into our schools; training teachers to proctor these courses and supplying students with the proper equipment they need for their projects costs a lot of money. As a result, this suggestion is not 100% feasible in the United States and certainly not feasible in all areas around the world.

            Another way to increase women’s representation in STEM fields is to offer more general scholarships that support their pursuit for a higher education. Current scholarships are a step in the right direction, but they often restrict applicants towards a certain major or only allow men to apply. These aspects undoubtedly discourage women from applying for the financial aid they need for college. Scholarships should be made with slightly broader requirements, especially since women are prone to changing their minds over time. If they do fall under the intended major listed on the application and end up applying for the scholarship, they are usually disappointed with the results. Unfortunately, this prevents women from applying to future scholarships because they are afraid they will spend hours on an application and several essays only to be rejected because they are female. Many people would argue that there are not enough funds to support more students’ college education, which is understandable. Another setback to this proposal is the wills that established these current scholarships cannot be changed. They will maintain the requirements set out by the current scholarship description. Consequently, this suggestion is not feasible today, but maybe in the future as new scholarships are created.

            The last recommendation to help improve women’s representation in STEM fields is a difficult mental change that society needs to consider. People need to open their minds up to ideas that stray from the status quo. Men, who have subconsciously established the popular status quo, have a reputation of being very stubborn. For the most part, men think they are always right and that their way is the only way. In all reality, men are holding society back from its fullest potential; the film Hidden Figures depicted what can happen when women are given a chance in to contribute their knowledge to NASA, so why is society still favoring these rigid occupation expectations? Perhaps men are afraid of being replaced by women in the workplace. Of course, though, men will not fire themselves to give women these job opportunities, so if women are rewarded with a job in a STEM related field, they will most likely be hired to perform secretary or treasury duties. Ultimately, this mental transformation will not occur over night. Similar to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women will have to fight for several years to increase their presence in the STEM workforce. As the old saying goes, though, anything that is worth having is worth fighting for.

            Overall, three proactive ways women can get more involved in STEM fields are creating more early-identification programs for young students, initiating more widespread scholarships for women studying STEM branches in college, and socially accepting that women are just as capable as men to perform these tasks. To their dismay, rising female students do not have much control over pioneering these projects; it is really in the hands of state/local governments and organizations to offer these opportunities to female students. Based on the improvements in recent years, women’s future in the STEM world looks bright, but they cannot let up in their efforts for equality in the workplace.