Careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) have often been male-dominated. Reports say that fewer than 25% of American women hold jobs in these fields, despite making up about half of the overall workforce.
Historically, women’s access to career fields were limited due to their previous inaccessibility to college — it wasn’t until 1840 that the first woman graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Roadblocks like this have allowed men to advance first and further on almost every career path.
Post-Cold War, the United States government pushed everyone to take jobs in advanced STEM industries. Unfortunately, the stigma of women’s absence from advanced fields still followed them — and although they are now free to pursue whatever field they wish, women are still less likely to pursue STEM.
How can we change this stereotype for young female students today, encouraging them to follow their academic interests to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics? Here’s what you need to know about the future of girls in STEM.
What Does the Field Look Like Today?
In 2015, more than 100,000 people obtained an undergraduate degree in engineering. Women made up less than 20%. It would seem that with today’s push for equality, we’d see more girls and women in STEM, but many stigmas exist that hinder the advancement of females in these fields. Too few role models, limited development opportunities and subpar work environments are only some of the apparent hurdles. Ultimately, we should address gender bias as a prominent issue in STEM if we ever want to see more women take those career paths.
The importance of women in STEM is unmatched — women offer unique perspectives, ideas and capabilities entirely worthy of advancing discoveries and developments in the field. Additionally, with more women entering the lucrative field, wage discrepancies might become less of a dispute.
How We Can Inspire Girls and Women
So, what can we do to encourage women and girls to take an interest in STEM? This push first starts at a young age. If parents and teachers highlight STEM as an option for young girls to pursue, it’s more likely to stay on their radar as they enter high school. DIY science projects and online learning games can help girls discover a love for these fields. At this stage, it’s all about introducing them to different aspects of STEM.
When they begin to consider options for future employment, young women should have the chance to try STEM before they commit to it. Through special classes and summer camps, they can learn the necessary skills and develop their passions even further. Even urging young women to pick up a book about science can help to expand their knowledge of what a career in STEM is. Both in and out of school, girls should be given equal encouragement in science and humanities.
Progress in the workplace is also necessary. As women enter their early STEM careers, they need to feel welcomed and supported. In such an established, primarily male industry, change isn’t easy, but it’s possible. The first step is to open up high-level executive positions for women. This helps to create work environments that offer equal advancement opportunities to everyone. There should also be efforts made to improve office culture as well as benefits and pay.
Now more than ever, schools are invested in getting girls interested in STEM. High schools and colleges are creating mentorship programs to assist women in their pursuits. As of 2018, California requires companies to have women on their corporate boards. With efforts like these, girls and women will be more likely to pursue careers in these fields — and more able to help advance modern science.