WOMEN in STEM: overcoming centuries of social bias in a world constructed by tumbling patriarchy

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no
lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields encompass a variety of disciplines that greatly benefit the society and its members’ well-being, and transition to a wide spectrum of well-paying jobs. In 2013, The average salary of entry-level STEM jobs, ranging from computer programming to aerospace and civil engineering, was 66123$, 26% larger than non-STEM jobs. At the same time, the STEM graduates had access to 2.5 times more job posting comparing to non-STEM fields at which 76% of STEM jobs needed at least a bachelor’s degree (Link).

The number of women in STEM-related fields shows a gender disparity, particularly for women that belong to ethnic minorities. Although since the 1990s, 57% of all bachelors are awarded to women, the number diminishes for STEM-related fields. For example in 2015 women got only 20% of bachelor degrees in engineering and 18% in computer sciences, respectively. In 2016, minority women were awarded about 12.6% and 7.8% of undergraduate and master’s degrees in science and engineering (Link). Based on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) data, this ratio is not great globally as well: Less than 30% of world researchers are women (Link).

But why do we have so few women in STEM fields? Some authors use the “leaky pipeline” analogy (Link) to explain that STEM careers are a series of pipes where at each stage people leak out of the system such as when someone changes major before graduating, pursue a career in non-STEM, etc. The analogy continues that there are more factors for women to be leaked out of this connected system due to self-stereotyping, childbirth, and discrimination during hiring.

A big important reason for this phenomenon is the unconscious biases that negatively impact women’s growth. A tool co-created by Prof. Bahzarin Banaji( Harvard University), Anthony Greenwald (University of Washington), and prof. Brian Nosek (University of Virginia) measures implicit bias in associating science with genders for over half a million people using the tool, where 70% associated male with science. A similar two-year study on 40 scientific committees
deciding which researcher should be promoted or demoted found that most committee members (regardless of their gender or field of study) unconsciously associated science with males. However, when they consciously believed in discrimination against women in STEM, their decisions were not impacted (Link).

I would like to conclude this post on a personal touch. As someone mentored by female STEM faculty members at both Master’s and Ph.D. levels, I’m indebted to the excellence and competence they brought to my education. Writing this essay made me reflect on the side of the story that I wouldn’t witness: all the years of college education they might experience blockage and bias, just to pursue their interest. This reflection made me appreciate all my female colleagues and understand that I, as some who strongly reject biases, am not immune to the hidden ones. And that I need to be proactive for all of my female colleagues, whenever they feel they might not belong, are silenced because of their concerns and are perceived less qualified because of their gender.

-This post is a excerpt from a longer essay that I hope to complete and publish here later.

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