Women in Tech
What is STEM?
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is, as you probably know, a very male dominated field. The percentage of women in STEM depends on the career, for example only 7.9% of mechanical engineers are women while 35.9% of chemists consist of females. These statistics do not vary significantly globally: In RIT (Rocheton Institute of Technology) in Dubai, 29.3% of students are women; in MIT (Massachusetts) in the US, female students make up 37%.
Are psychology or neurology the reasons?
The dispute on the causes of the gender gap in STEM persists. Many people argue that it is due to neurological differences between men and women that make females less capable as compared to males, personally, I disagree. As you can see from the graph below, girls actually perform better academically than boys. Moreover, as per the experts, Dr. Annie Crookes - a psychology professor at Heriot-Watt University (Dubai), said during an interview that “more likely the reasons why STEM has gender bias are cultural and social more than they are cognitive/neural”.
So if there is no scientific evidence for this gender gap, what are the reasons?
Cultural and social factors drive gender gap in STEM fields. Girls are often discouraged from pursuing a career in this area because society has taught them that ‘boys are better at maths’, in fact, throughout elementary school 100% of female students have said or been told so. Additionally, in terms of home economics, in most families it is always the man who is good at math, science, technology etc. and when the mothers are asked for a doubt regarding these subjects they usually answer “I was never good at that, go ask your dad”.
Tradition and media stereotypes are another influence to the gender gap. Young female teens frequently feel ashamed of being ‘that girl who is into science’ as in lots of movies and TV shows (such as The Big Bang Theory), they are presented as ‘weirdos who don’t fit in’. Besides this, in the early history, women were not very involved in any STEM-related research or discoveries and they worked in jobs such as secretaries/assistants, this tradition has been dragged on throughout the years and still exists today as an obstacle to many women interested in technology or such. How many famous female scientists do you know in addition to Mary Curie?
Last but not least, the workplace environment can be also a root cause of the lack of women who actually work as engineers or scientists etc. According to a research conducted by Harvard Business Review, 52% of women working in STEM decide to quit their jobs due to the hostility of the environment. In a male-dominated workplace, women usually experience discrimination, inequality, and even isolation. 75% of women working in STEM have been victims of some kind of inappropriate behavior or harassment. Overall, this environment makes it uncomfortable for many women and can be, thus, very hard to confront.
Is it too late?
It is not too late. You may have realized that many companies are running campaigns and events in order to encourage young girls to pursue a STEM career. Why is it so important to close this gender gap?
There are many drawbacks to the lack of women in science, math etc. Impact on the women: For one, it means that women might not obtain the quality of health care that men do. Women usually suffer more side effects than men from medication, and serious health concerns, such as heart attacks, are sometimes misdiagnosed on women as most medicinal trials/tests are conducted on an average man. Value added to Society: It has also been proven that diverse teams work more efficiently, as different perspectives can enrich the creativity and increase the odds of innovation and development. Moreover, gender discipline in science and technology is an important aspect of creating an unbiased and successful product.
It is very hard to completely close the gender gap, and even though we are working to get there, it will take a lot of time and effort. The key to tackling this situation, however, is to lever on mentoring and motivation. Schools, companies, and parents must all contribute in order to progress and get more and more women into STEM.
A lot of companies, such as Cisco, are running campaigns and events in attempt to expose young girls to technology and make them more interested in this subject. In these events, young females are mentored and taught how STEM works in an interesting way in order to persuade them. Furthermore, these campaigns expose that there are many other girls are just like them. They are not alone! We are not alone!
Schools and parents must always encourage girls to join activities that are STEM-related, especially if they have potential. This can be done by convincing them to join subject-related activities after/outside the school, and also by pointing them to women role models in STEM, such as, for example, Caterina Fake (Flickr co-founder) or Sara de Freitas (Director of Research, Serious Games Institute). Girls can easily connect with these role models and can help them reach a goal to get as far as them, thus allowing find their self-encouragement tools.
So, girls, if you are out there: We need you. Don’t be ashamed to pursue STEM just because society might judge you for being different because it just makes you stand out and be unique. It will be hard and people will discourage you, but stay strong and ‘don’t give up’ because you can make a difference to this world.