Women in STEM for a Gender-Equal Society

By Liz Mellem - February 3rd, 2017

Dr. David Kenneth Waldman, CSU-Global faculty member and advocate for advancing girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, will be presenting at the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 10, 2017 in Malta.

See why it’s so important to expose girls and women to STEM fields to further innovation, research, and technology. Utilizing Dr. Waldman’s presentation, this post also identifies some of the challenges women must overcome to have their voices heard in policy development and program integration for a gender-equal outcome.

women in STEM fields

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up nearly half of the working population, but only 26 percent are STEM workers compared to 74 percent of men. The disproportionate representation of women in these wide reaching and important areas results in male-dominated processes, politics, and programs.

In a world where both men and women must adhere to laws, utilize public goods and services, work within policies, and access resources, the information used to create these guidelines should encompass both genders.

No Voice, No Representation

Unfortunately, the underrepresentation of women in these crucial decision-making fields has had a wider impact than you may realize. For instance, despite the fact that gender-specific research on heart disease shows differences between men and women, women are generally left out of scientific studies.

Leaving half of the population out of heart disease research has resulted in knowledge gaps on how best to diagnose, treat, and prevent heart disease in women. This is especially concerning because heart disease is the number one killer of women.

According to the American Heart Association, heart attack symptoms can be different in women versus men, and these signs are often misunderstood even by physicians. The underrepresentation of women in the medical field has resulted in a similar underrepresentation in medical research. As we can see in this case, leaving half of the population out of the research, opens the door for missing early warning signs, comprehensive treatment plans, and steps toward prevention.

It’s not just life-threatening diseases where women aren’t getting the representation necessary to influence outcomes. Gendered Innovations, a Stanford University project devoted to gender analysis, examined public transportation data as it relates to male and female users.

Gendered Innovations found that despite the fact that the larger majority of public transportation users are women, the leadership roles are held predominantly by men.

When researchers compared how men and women use public transit, they found that “care” trips, or trips related to childcare or household errands, account for a large proportion of daily travel. Knowing that, facilities can accommodate care riders by replacing stairs with ramps, widening aisles or gates, and raising platforms to train level to help women with strollers, children, and bags.

Gendered Innovations also discovered that women practice “trip-chaining” much more than men. Trip-chaining is when you make multiple stops within your commute. Women are twice as likely to chain-trip because of child and family responsibilities that require getting off and on public transit throughout one ride.  Designers can use this information to extend transit into high care-related areas like schools and parks to make sure users have access.

Based on these findings, Gendered Innovations recommended changes in leadership of transportation boards as these positions are typically held by men. The suggestion to diversify leadership for a gender-equal outcome brings us back to the importance of girls and women in STEM fields.

Challenges to Overcome

Dr. Waldman identifies the following challenges for girls and women who may desire to study, or may excel, in a STEM field. These challenges include, but are not limited to:

  • Shortage of women leaders in STEM fields.
  • Discrimination and negative perceptions against girls and women in STEM fields.
  • Lack of universal education from early childhood to higher education/lifelong learning.
  • Revoked rights for women during economic downturns.

While women are statistically underrepresented in STEM leadership, not all STEM fields are lacking female influence. For instance, women earn more than half of the degrees awarded in chemistry and math, yet these fields are still considered “male-dominated.”

While women are statistically underrepresented in STEM leadership, not all STEM fields are lacking female influence. For instance, women earn more than half of the degrees awarded in chemistry and math, yet these fields are still considered “male-dominated.”

Falsely characterizing career roles and STEM subjects as “male-dominated” tells women that these areas are not for them. The cultural and societal confirmation of that continues to send the message that some things are off-limits for females.

Solutions to Pursue

Regardless of these challenges, the goal is to overcome. Dr. Waldman offers the following solutions to move forward:

  • Program and policy focus needs to start at the community level and coordinate inclusively with all actors and stakeholders across sectors and fields of study.
  • Girls need to receive the necessary education to become leaders. Women in leadership roles can inform policy and influence exposure and access to STEM careers for girls and women.
  • All stakeholders need to develop a broader transdisciplinary, postmodern, feminist political and cultural discourse to provide equal access and exposure to education in STEM subjects.
  • Existing policies and laws designed to expose STEM trainings need to be implemented and enforced.
  • Adapt national plans to local levels to ensure a path to STEM careers begins early.
    • Budget allocation for STEM programs for girls and women.
    • Public administrators and educators need to be trained on how to implement science education and school-to-work programs for girls and women who wish to enter STEM careers.

Regardless of your gender, women in STEM fields can influence societal change for a more inclusive and gender-equal world. To hear more about girls and women in STEM visit the International Day of Women and Girls in Science Commemoration. Learn about To Love Children, Dr. Waldman’s nonprofit organization, to see how you can support his mission to educate and advocate for sustainable educational opportunities for all girls.

Liz Mellem
Liz lives in Denver, CO and worked as the content marketing specialist for Colorado State University-Global before freelancing full-time. She earned her bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Kansas in 2007, and her master's degree in social work from New York University in 2008. Outside of work, Liz enjoys the outdoors, traveling, and spending time with friends.

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