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Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 8am

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Branching Out Into STEM: A Male Dominated Workforce

Banching Into StemThe lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has been a cultural concern for some time now. As of 2006, women accounted for 46.3 percent of all workers in science and engineering careers, with the largest percentages of women appearing as nurses, therapists, and dieticians- traditionally female-dominant fields.

The percentage of women in all science and engineering did increase by 2015, but only by 0.5 percent according to the National Science Foundation.

However, there may be some good news on the horizon; a study done by Williams and Ceci in 2015 including 873 tenure-track faculty from the fields of psychology, economics, engineering and biology at different universities revealed that faculty members would prefer to hire a female tenure-track professor twice as often as a male tenure-track professor.

Women are also earning bachelor’s degrees at almost the same rate as men, and are being actively encouraged to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors and careers by their mentors.

Mary Fitzgerald, a senior math and elementary education student, says she chose to major in math because, “it’s the subject [she has] the most passion for; my math teachers were always very encouraging. One tried to convince me to go into engineering.”

Pooja Shah, a junior biology student with a concentration in molecular cell physiology, agrees.

When asked about any challenges she may have faced in her medical track, Shah said, “I have to say, I am very lucky to have such a positive experience in the area of STEM that I am in. I think that times are changing, and in terms of women in STEM, people are opening their eyes to a new, bright future of female scientists and doctors and mathematicians.”

While getting women into STEM tracks may not be an issue, keeping them there might be.

According to the National Science Foundation, men earned 58.4 percent of all doctoral degrees in science and engineering in 2014, whereas women only earned 41.6 percent of those degrees.

Some women are dropping out of the STEM pipeline, and Joan Williams and Kate Massinger of The Atlantic suggest that this could be due to sexual harassment.

One in 3 female science faculty members have reported sexual harassment in 2015 according to The Atlantic.

Some speculate that this harsh reality is due in large part to the fact that recommendation letters and job offers for women in STEM rely heavily on their relationships with their mentors.

Pregnancy harassment may also be a growing issue; a report entitled Parents in the Pipeline conducted a survey of 1,000 post-doctoral students, of whom 20 percent reported that having a child negatively impacted their training experience.

In truth, harassment is not the only challenge facing women in STEM fields.

In 2016, Cornell University researchers found that as women enter a field of employment, payment in that field drops.

This effect is responsible for 51 percent of the pay gap that women face.

Gender bias does not just appear as a deliberate action of paying a woman less than a man for the same work, it weaves itself into the fabric of STEM by affecting entire industries.

Paula England, a professor of Sociology at New York University, speculated in an interview with the New York Times that, “once women start doing a job, it just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill.”

Dr. Lisa Dinella, an associate professor of psychology, said, “Unfortunately, traits and characteristics associated with femininity are currently valued less than those of masculinity. The historic trend of salaries decreasing as more women enter the field illustrates this phenomena in a pointed manner.”

Dinella continued, “Awareness of the explicit and implicit bias behind these trends can help curb the inequity.”

“Having concrete criterion for promotions and salary increases, as well as constant assessment of  gender equity in salaries, can help corporations and industries bring fairness to their workplace,” she said.

To ensure a bright future for women as educators, mathematicians, medical professionals and much more, we need to focus on ending the effects of gender bias, not just the stereotype that STEM is only for men.

PHOTO TAKEN by Nicole Riddle

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