Something you see a lot of articles about is women in STEM fields. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and generally encompasses any career that’s “techy.” Generally, you see a lot of articles about the underrepresentation of women in STEM. According to research from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are 48% of the workforce, yet only about 24% of STEM jobs. As a girl who’s been active in STEM, namely engineering focused, I think that this needs to be changed.
A lot of the discouragement that females face is mostly unconscious, things we don’t even realize is happening. Google images for “engineer,” you only see stock photos of men building buildings, working with tools, or overseeing work sites. If you are a young girl, you don’t see people who look like you. Studies show that not being able to identify with someone or something discourages interest. As girls show more interest in STEM in middle or high school, the discouragement from either peers or superiors only grows. In high school, I was on an all-girls robotics team, the largest and most decorated girls’ team in the world. However, when we placed second at a very competitive regional, the adult mentor of another team who didn’t place told us “not bad for a couple of Girl Scouts.” When I went to an engineering camp, I was one of three girls in our fifteen person group. When I was chosen to lead the group in the simple task of building wooden gliders, the majority of the boys questioned my every move or didn’t listen. When we repeated the task a few days later, this time with one of the guys leading it, I had never seen a more cooperative group of boys. When the group was building a shed, the guys automatically gave us three girls the jobs of painting or getting supplies, or would either refuse our help or take the tools away, saying “Oh we got this” or “It’s ok, I can do it.” I could have learned so much more if I could have helped more. I still enjoyed the camp, but sometimes I wonder how much more I could have done.
I fully understand that this will never change if people just complain. However, many men asked about gender bias in STEM don’t believe that the discrimination exists. Even with countless reports. This problem boils down to an “I don’t experience it, therefore it must not be real” or “I don’t discriminate, I’m sure the people I work with don’t” mindset. The unconscious bias leads to underestimation of female colleagues, rejecting a resume with a female name yet accepting the same resume with a male name, or pushing stereotypes on young children. “That’s for boys.” “You can’t use the blocks, you’re a girl.” The gap is narrowing, however, as more parents are more conscious of “boy toys” or letting their children play with both dolls and cars. This gap will not vanish until there is a culture shift among the older generations. Women are still seen as less professional, and the same characteristics that let men be termed “a strong leader” or “authoritative” are often labeled in women as “bossy”, “naggy” or even “she’s a b*tch.” The only thing for us to do is know and trust our own worth, and find others who value our intelligence too.
I am an engineer. Sure, I’m not a very good one yet. But I love messing with how things work too much to stop now. There is no true picture of what an engineer looks like.