While the workforce requirements inSTEM have been increasing steadily (in some cases exponentially) every year, there is a consistent decrease overall in the number of women achieving degrees or certifications in STEM.
In fact, since a concerted effort has been made in the last 10 years to recruit more women, the drop has become more precipitous:
People might think this is counter-intuitive. Why, when we are actually focusing on the “problem”, would we not make any headway in graduating more women to fill these skilled careers?
There are a few reasons that I can see:
1. No one likes being singled out.
When I was a child, I was raised in the happy place in between the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 60’s and the Gender Discrimination wars of today. Perhaps it was a naive time, but we didn’t have toys “for girls” or “for boys.” If a girl wanted to play with toy cars, they didn’t have to buy a plastic pink version. If a boy wanted to play with dolls, he didn’t have to explain it away with “it’s an action figure” to everyone under the sun. No matter what your thing, provided you weren’t shy you could generally find kids to play with and support you (and make fun of you while supporting you.)
So when it came time to decide what you were interested in, be it sports, science, medicine, whatever – people just accepted it no matter what gender you were and moved on. People were willing to experiment, and while it wasn’t judgement free, it was character building.
I don’t see kids doing that today.
I see them being mean to each other when someone shows any interest in anything outside the accepted norms (whatever those are, because frankly no one ever told me). I visited a school recently where the science room had been trashed the night before “just because,” causing two girls to break down because a project they’d spent so much time on was gone in an instant. It was heart-wrenching.
2. There aren’t any STEM rock-star role models.
I knew I wanted to become an astronaut the day I saw the Challenger explosion. Of course, Christa McAuliffe was on that mission (First “Civilian” teacher in space), as was Judy Resnick (first person of Jewish ancestry in space, and second American female), but to my 8 year-old brain, the thought process was:
- Astronauts go into space.
- Space is cool.
- Engineers screwed that launch up.
- I will get myself to NASA and make personally sure they don’t screw it up again.
Gender didn’t play into it.
I remember when both Brooke Shields and Jodie Foster went to Ivy League schools, it was a huge deal to myself and my friends; not because we were super fans of either or anything (although the original Freaky Friday or Oh God! were almost always on in one of our houses) but because we KNEW that those girls both were epitomizing “you need to have something to fall back on” and if even THEY were concerned about their careers after already being famous, we better study our butts off.
Today, we have celebrities who say science is dumb and others who actually have Masters degrees or PhDs in STEM not giving very convincing counter arguments.
For example, this dude:
Ken Jeong is an actual medical doctor, famous for being a comedian (good for him!) who tells people all the time that being a doctor was way harder than what he does now where he makes so much more money.
Which brings me to point 3.
3. There is hardly any money in it, and where there is it takes a lot of effort to obtain.
For better or worse, our society has shifted to one of instant gratification and global transparency. Everything we do can be instantly streamed to everyone everywhere around the world in real time.
Many people don’t want to accept jobs that pay less than or equal to minimum wage (if they have any choice in the matter), and many STEM jobs are low paying yet require high amounts of education to fill. Others are higher paying but hazardous, another thing that knocks people out of taking them.
People don’t have the patience to sit and wait 24 months for test results – they want Maury Povich to tell them after the commercial break (which they can fast forward through.)
Until we can overcome all of this, I fear the downturn in overall STEM (not just women) recruiting will continue.
Originally Posted: https://www.quora.com/How-well-have-the-current-efforts-to-bring-females-into-STEM-worked-out
Originally Posted On: 2015-04-26