By Amy Gonzales
At a young age, I lacked confidence in math and science. I remember reading the material in math books and being frustrated. By the time I was in 7th grade, I always felt nervous to ask a question or go to the board to solve a math problem when being called on in class. This intimidation grew into a self-fulfilling prophecy that I would never be good at math. As a result, I was constantly intimidated by anything that involved numbers all the way up until college.
The Power in Speaking the Words “I CAN”
After diligently studying, sacrificing time away from family and friends and starting to believe in the words “I CAN,” I went from having C’s to A’s and B’s in my math classes. I always blamed not graduating college on time because I was too intimidated to take anything over Intermediate Algebra. With the help of professors and tutors at my community college, I was able to break the stigma that I was horrible at math.
When Everything Changed
During my Fall 2016 semester at CSUF, I was introduced to a communications course called “Quantitative Research Methods.” I automatically thought “Another math class? I thought I was done with this sh*t, I’m a Communication Studies major!” Ironically, this class ended up being one of my favorite classes during my college career. For this class, I had a research paper that was a significant portion of my grade (pretty much if I didn’t write this paper, I would fail). I chose to write about the lack of women in STEM. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Since I grew up with the thought that I could never understand numbers, algorithms, theorems, or statistics, I wanted to research and see if other women went through the same thing I did growing up. Here are some statistics I was surprised to learn about with the lack of women in STEM and what the most common career choices are among women.
1. A Sage Journals article states that in 2009, women earned only 16.5% of the undergraduate degrees awarded in engineering and 19.3% of the undergraduate degrees in physics.
2. NGC notes that the increase in female participation in science and engineering over the past twenty years has increased participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups, but mainly among Hispanic and Asian women.
3. Catalyst reviewed young Canadians (aged 25 to 34) holding bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. Men were almost twice as likely to work in science and technology jobs as women in 2016.
4. The underrepresentation of women in STEM is due to the academic culture that provides women with less opportunities, inadequate support and imbalance in leadership rather than gender-based dissimilarities such as roles in family responsibilities (APA.org).
5. Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce (ESA).
6. NGC reports that women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.
7. Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs – considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs (NGC).
8. According to ESA, women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupations. They are more likely to work in education or healthcare.
9. A report by NGC determined that Hispanics, African Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives make up a smaller share of the science and engineering workforce (11%) than their proportion in the general population (27% of U.S. working age population).
10. NGC states that minority women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers.
11. Catalyst shared that in 2016 women on corporate boards (16%) were almost twice as likely as their male counterparts (9%) to have professional technology experience among 518 Forbes Global 2000 companies.
12. In India, women earned undergraduate degrees in science at (50.1%) and IT and computer (47.7%) yet remain underrepresented in engineering and technology (31.9%) in 2015 – 2016 (Catalyst).
After reading these statistics, I realized that women are under much more scrutiny than men when it comes to the expectations of starting a family and household duties. It seems obvious that women would gravitate towards education and healthcare by being teachers and nurturers naturally. I remember when I was in kindergarten I was asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” My response: “A pediatrician!” There are times where I wonder how my career would have went if I would have still stuck with that kindergarten aspiration. Fact number 9 was the most most eye opening to me. A question I raise to the community is how can we (as women), empower Hispanics, African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives to a pathway in STEM? How can we make this more accessible? How can we break the stereotype and change the statistics in the next five, ten, or twenty years? It starts in the home and in the classroom. The phrase “women aren’t good at math” is now eliminated.
If you look up “lack of women in STEM” on YouTube, a number of videos including TED Talks speak about empowering women to excel in the STEM workforce. The video below represents similar thoughts and feelings I have had through the years.
How can we eliminate this bias among women in STEM at an early age and throughout adulthood? Here are a few suggestions from AAUW:
- Spread the word about girls’ and women’s achievements in math and science.
- Teach students about stereotype threat and promote a growth-mindset environment.
- Talented and gifted programs should send the message that they value growth and learning.
- Help girls recognize their career-relevant skills.
- Encourage high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes when available.
How do you feel about the lack of women in STEM? Have you ever lacked confidence in math or science skills or has that always been a strong suit for you?
As an individual that has felt inferior and intimidated by STEM in the past, it is important to trust in your abilities no matter how hard it may be. A quote that got me through tough times in academia is by Rosalynn Carter: “you have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” I can personally relate to this quote. I kept putting off my math courses and thinking that it would magically “go away.” That didn’t get me too far. I had to build up the confidence to follow through and tackle math. As a result, I ended up proving myself wrong and exceeding my expectations. With that being said, I leave you with another one of my all-time favorite quotes by Ayn Rand: “the question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”