STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and math and statistics and studies have found that there are fewer women in those fields mainly because of lack of mandatory precollege coursework.

There are many stereotypes surrounding STEM careers, and if young women do not have the opportunity to explore all science fields in high school, they could lose the chance to discover they are passionate about a STEM career, widening the gender gap in those areas of research.

Fewer women in STEM fields means a wider gender gap in pay and science in general, where gender disparity could cost human lives. Image Credit: Everyday Feminism

Sapna Cheryan, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington analyzed why certain STEM careers have fewer women interested in the fields of computer science and engineering than biology, chemistry, and mathematics.

Cheryan research found that computer science and engineering are not part of the mandatory precollege courses, which keeps a male culture in those fields. When women feel there are not much women nor support for them to enter a male-dominated STEM area, they usually stay away from it, especially if they never had the chance to experience if they are truly passionate about the field.  

Nowadays, several STEM degrees show a gender parity but computer science and engineering only earns one out of five women of the undergraduate degrees. Not encouraging women to explore and make a career out of every STEM area is more severe than it seems. It affects the future of brilliant minds that had to settle for less because they felt computer science and engineering is a men’s job.

STEM degrees often offer high-paying jobs, which means that every girl that lost her chance to explore computer science and engineering because they did not have to study those areas in high school are more likely to earn less.

Masculine culture in engineering, to illustrate how serious gender gap is in STEM fields, have resulted in more women and children deaths than in mixed engineering teams. The first airbags tests and heart valves involved a male team, and because they did not have a female insight, airbags tended to kill women and children because the product only took into account the male body. When women became part of those engineering results, airbags were able to protect all genders and children.

Similar situations have happened when designing heart valves and voice recognition programs, and more would continue to take place if the educational system keeps excluding women of the computer science and engineering fields.  

The research analyzed more than 1,000 articles regarding gender disparities in STEM fields

Cheryan and her team went through 1,000 research articles that tried to understand why young women managed to gender-balanced biology, chemistry and math fields and not computer science and engineering. The team found that the lack of course experience in those two areas and the male culture surrounding them are the cause that keeps women from pursuing a career in computer science and engineering.

In most U.S. high schools, there are mandatory courses in biology, chemistry, and math, but not for physics, computer science, and engineering. When children have the freedom to choose what classes to take there is a risk: they could be missing the opportunity to actually discover what they want to do with their lives when they are older.

Mandatory courses are essential for children’s education because high school is the place that must teach children that they can pursue any career they want. Schools need to demonstrate young women that their preexisting perceptions on a field cannot stop them from becoming a STEM graduate if that is what they want to be.

High school mandatory courses let girls see that they are as good on a subject as their male classmates, which encourages them to study computer science or engineering career despite being a mostly male field.

Countries that require more science and math in high schools have smaller gender gaps in STEM degrees, and the United States is already working to reduce gender disparity in all science.

President Obama allocated $4 billion early this year to promote computer science through the ‘White House’s Computer Science for All’ initiative. The funds intend to make more widely available the resources for children to explore computer science in American schools.

Another measure to better promote STEM course in precollege courses was made by the Congress, which added computer science and engineering to the list of core academic subjects.

The male culture in STEM fields: Creating an environment for women and men

In STEM fields where there are fewer women is more common to find a masculine culture that excludes young scientists because of gender. Male cultures make boys feel more welcomed to pursue a career in the field than women, especially because those environments make girls think they have to be boys to be successful.

Stereotypes surrounding computer science and engineering make women feel they will not be able to excel in those areas because there is not an environment that encourages them to be part of the experience. Computer science and engineering have preconceptions about girls abilities in those fields and the current image of computer scientists -Bill Gates, Steve Jobs- are not exactly telling girls they have an opportunity in the area.

Early courses in all STEM areas are a significant step to eliminate the gender gap in college and the American force work, but it is not enough. To reduce gender disparities in computer science and engineering in college, girls and boys need to feel welcomed in those environments, no matter if there are more women or men. Gender equality must be taught at schools as well to have both sexes working in STEM areas, which would improve future inventions.

Source: The Conversation