Keeping women in STEM

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

In light of Women’s History Month, the Technique editorial board wanted to highlight both the success and fallacies of the Women in STEM movement. It is difficult to summarize such a broad and nuanced movement, but at its core, the movement revolves around one concept: the equality of girls and women in any and all STEM fields. 

In some ways, the movement has been a massive success. Countless initiatives in K-12 schools have allowed younger girls, who may have been fed societal narratives that science and math are for boys, to explore their potential passion for STEM. For example, coding initiatives that frame computer science as an approachable and fun extracurricular recruit many girls into a male-dominated field while also building a sense of community as girls are able to find other girls with similar interests. The success of these initiatives is clearly apparent as the rate of women getting their degrees in STEM fields is higher than ever.

However, as we recognize the strides that have been made in getting women through the door into various STEM fields, we also must highlight the staggering rate at which women are also leaving these fields. Faced with workplace harassment, casual sexism, and a notable wage disparity, women across the nation are also quitting the workplace in droves. This issue is not limited to STEM fields however as even women in female-dominated fields, such as teaching or library sciences, are consistently passed up for promotions for their male counterparts. Even though statistics have proven time and time again that women are just as competent as men, they continue to face a barrage of demeaning comments and are consistently undervalued for their work. More often than not, the only way for women — especially in a male-dominated field like STEM – to succeed is to go above and beyond their male counterparts.

The idea that women have to do more than their male counterparts to be allowed a seat at the metaphorical table is not a new concept, but it is becoming increasingly glaring as more women begin to join the workforce in traditionally male-dominated careers. Regardless of their field, women are pushed to achieve an ideal of the put-together career woman who does more than her male peers and also makes time for family, while their male counterparts are held to no such standard. Rather than being rewarded for doing more than men, it is simply expected for women to exceed expectations. 

Moreover, alongside these standards, women face disproportionate punishment for any mistakes. Countless women who have left the workforce testify to being unequally punished for making the same mistakes as their male coworkers. This added burden of never being able to slip up or be anything less than perfect puts an almost insurmountable amount of pressure on women. Combine this with the lack of support that many women receive from their female and male coworkers alike, and the exodus of women from STEM careers makes far more sense.

Considering the issue of women in STEM holistically, we encourage current initiatives to work towards not only recruiting girls into STEM but addressing systemic issues, so that these girls can eventually become successful women in their selected fields. We encourage organizations around the world to focus on combatting workplace harassment head-on and teaching girls the skills they need to face the sadly inevitable issues that are inherent to being a woman in the workforce. By taking steps such as facilitating discussion about these issues and implementing diversity training for all employees, we hope that the depressingly common issue of workplace sexism can be addressed like the very real problem it is. Furthermore, we also recognize the unique struggle that women of color and queer women experience, so we also encourage organizations to center on more diverse role models of career women.

Specifically, at Georgia Tech, we encourage more discussion about sexism in the college classroom and increasing awareness among male professors and teachers assistants on how to create an equal class environment. Even in majors with nearly equal gender ratios, sexism is still prevalent and it creates a major barrier for women inside and outside the classroom. Even if women are designated a seat in the classroom, in the cubicle, or in the boardroom, the sheer energy they must exert to get there and stay there is unfathomable and fundamentally unfair. As we take March to reflect on the achievement of the women who came before us, we encourage change to ensure that the women after us are able to leave their impact on a more equal world.