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Surveying STEM: Looking at low numbers of women in STEM careers

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Surveying STEM: Looking at low numbers of women in STEM careers

Hayley Koontz, 12

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In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. In 1963, John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, advancing the cause of equal pay for women. The 2016 presidential election marked the first time in U.S. history that a woman won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Within the last century, great strides have been made towards gender equality. However, in fields involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), women are underrepresented. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce report “Women in STEM: 2017 Update,” in 2015, 14% of engineers were female. In computer science and math, the number was 26%. Women made up 25% of STEM managers in the U.S. that year. Why are these numbers so low?

Some feel that the low percentages of women currently working in STEM-related professions discourage women from pursuing careers in these fields.

“I think the reason some of them go under-noticed is that not a majority of them (people in STEM fields) are women. They’re the minority. There hasn’t been a whole lot going into those fields, even here at the high school,” Eric Webb, 12, said.

Gloria Martinez, 11, takes notice of the discrepancy between numbers of male and female students in some higher level STEM classes at Circle.

“We only have three girls in our AP Chem class. I think we definitely need more, but it’s not a problem if that’s not what they want to do in life,” Gloria Martinez,11, said.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation,” biases towards women in these fields may contribute to the disparity between the numbers of women and men working in these occupations.

“I feel like a lot of them don’t go into it for some reason. I feel like there’s some underlying, unspoken thing that they aren’t supposed to,” Webb said. “They work just as hard as men do. We could probably better bring out how they’re represented. Let (girls) know that they have a brain and if you like doing cool stuff in the fields of science, math, and tech, go do it.”

According to calculus teacher Julie Finneran, history may be a contributing factor.

“In the last couple hundred years, it’s only been in the last 50 that any field was open to women. I think that time goes on, we’re going to see more women that explore their desire to analyze things, to pick them apart and put them back together,” Finneran said. “I don’t see a big gender gap thing. I don’t see it as a negative, but I’m glad that we live in an atmosphere now where anyone can do anything. I would like to see anybody who loves mathematics move forward with it. I’ve got several women in my calculus class, really really smart women, and I hope they do something with it. Same as I have several really really smart men, and I hope that they do something with it too.”

Martinez feels that taking STEM classes benefits her overall understanding of how the outside world works.

“When I take a science class, it kind of helps me to understand things in general, and I like to be able to look at something and say, ‘oh, I know why it’s doing that’,” Martinez said.

The report “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” stated in its conclusion that the low numbers of females in these fields could be caused by several factors, including a lack of role models in STEM fields for women and the difficulty of working in STEM occupations while caring for a family. According to the report, “The findings provide definitive evidence of a need to encourage and support women in STEM with a goal of gender parity. Given the high-quality, well-paying jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, there is a great opportunity for growth in STEM in support of American competitiveness, innovation, and jobs of the future.”

Finneran is optimistic about the future of Circle students in STEM fields and feels that there are opportunities for anyone hoping to pursue a STEM degree.

“We’ve got a lot of great students here at Circle, and we’ve got a lot of great teachers here. The educational system already is (encouraging women to pursue STEM fields). There are all kinds of grants out there for women and programs out there for women; it’s just finding them and taking the time to do the research,” Finneran said. “Women and men can look for whatever options are available, and I think otherwise we’re doing it. We’re trying to encourage everybody, at least in this school we are.”

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Surveying STEM: Looking at low numbers of women in STEM careers