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Leveling the STEM Playing Field

This blog was exclusively written for by: Jarrah Bulton

STEM Education Today

Why is there a lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers? A graph shared by The Atlantic shows that only 25% of STEM graduates in the United States are women. Educators are working to address this issue and encourage more females to pursue these careers.

Women Among STEM Graduates

A scatterplot of countries based on their number of female STEM graduates and their Global Gender Gap Index (y-axis), a measure of opportunities for women (Psychological Science)

Throughout history women have excelled in various fields of science. Some of the biggest names in STEM are women. From Marie Curie’s discovery of radioactivity to Esther Takeuchi’s achievements in reengineering batteries, women’s contributions in STEM fields have improved the way people live today. However, this history of women in STEM has often not gotten the attention it warrants in educational materials. This is starting to change.

California now has a law that requires textbooks and materials to recognize the full range of diversity among the ranks of scientists who have influenced the many different fields of science. In a recent project for the state of California, Victory developed short biographies of prominent scientists, including women, members of the LGBTQ community, and those who had physical disabilities. The biographies allow more students to see themselves reflected in textbooks and, it is hoped, to be inspired to pursue careers in science or technology. This recognition is important because it breeds a culture of active learning, student empowerment, and equal job offerings all over the world.

Another barrier that has kept women out of STEM fields is the belief that women don’t have the intellectual capacity to work in STEM. There are no current studies, however, that can demonstrate that male and female brains function differently. This essentially eliminates gender difference as a reason to discourage women from pursuing careers in STEM. The case then lies in our educational systems and how they present topics to their students.

Educators need to create math and science programs with an inviting atmosphere for both girls and boys. As long as both sexes are equally exposed and encouraged to study these disciplines, women with talent and a genuine interest in STEM are as likely to pursue related subjects as are men.

Women Pioneers in the STEM Field

Women in STEM

Women accomplished in STEM have made it their mission to get more girls into these fields by building institutions or teaching in their areas of expertise.

Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to fly into space, left NASA specifically to work on getting young girls to develop a love for astronomy. Sally Ride Science, her science education company, helped spark the national discussion and shift the national perspective on the importance of involving girls in STEM in school and beyond. Ride’s influence has left an indelible mark on the industry. Learning about these kinds of achievements by women can be motivational to young girls who want to plunge into fields dominated by men.

Susan Landau, an engineer and cyber security policy expert, has been a prominent figure in the world of computer encryption and wiretapping since the 1990s. Landau teaches encryption policies and law as a Bridge Professor in Cyber Security and Policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and at the School of Engineering, Department of Computer Science at Tufts University. She has written numerous books on the subject—most recently, Listening In: Cybersecurity in an Insecure Age, and her work is particularly relevant today. We are living in a time when a simple data breach can mean compromising millions of users’ personal information. Landau continues to educate consumers about the new perils they face in a world where smartphones can track our every move.

Kimberly Bryant, who worked in biotech for over 20 years, founded Black Girls Code. The goal of the nonprofit organization is to increase the number of women of color working in the digital world. By helping girls of color from ages 7 to 17 learn computer science and coding, the organization is helping to create the next generation of innovators in STEM.

If the inspiring women above did not get into their fields, the world would be a different place to live in right now. Having female trailblazers in STEM doesn’t only herald a positive impact on society but also equal opportunity and pay for women. Techbridge Girls reports that women earn on average 20 percent less than men. With the 1.4 million computer specialist jobs expected to open up in America by 2020, having more women pursue STEM careers may help balance the pay gap.

Models of achievement are undeniably important. The more women and diverse leaders that young girls can see in STEM, the more they will recognize that similar opportunities are available to them. Success in these fields can increase self-confidence and allow girls to paint a picture of what women can contribute to the world. STEM fields are critical for the betterment of society, and attracting the brightest female minds to these subjects will be beneficial for the whole population.



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