The Problem with Women in STEM

I have never been intimidated to be the only woman in the room and, in fact, I welcome the challenge. However, I know that many women – and young girls – do not feel the same. Girls need to be encouraged to stand up to the challenge, and I truly believe that having strong female role models is crucial to the development of confidence in the younger generation of female doers.

I have a saying: the problem with women in STEM is that there aren’t women in STEM. Of course, there are plenty of women in STEM – but not nearly enough. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up only 29% of the STEM workforce.

I have heard stories from many female friends only a few years older than myself who were interested in STEM fields – and even began to pursue a degree in a STEM field – but were too intimidated when they were the only woman in their collegiate-level class.

Attracting women to pursue careers in STEM fields is, of course, a very nuanced and complicated issue, but I truly believe that encouraging girls from a young age is crucial. We need to build the confidence of girls before society tells them that they aren’t cut out to be scientists, engineers, or mathematicians.

We need to provide girls with strong female role models early in life, and I’m proud to say that we have begun to rise to the challenge. Check out Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World for examples of ways to inspire girls from an early age.

It’s certainly a good start, but we still need to be doing more. Mentorship is an incredibly powerful tool, and the implementation of mentorship programs would be an amazing way to encourage girls at the middle- and high-school levels.

And for those women who are wondering how to get started with something like programming, check out Django Girls for a great tutorial on building a blog using Django! Django Girls is one of my favorite organizations and I plan to volunteer with them as much as possible!

What are your thoughts? How would you encourage girls to become interested or confident in STEM fields? Do you participate in a mentorship program? Let me know in the comments or send me an email!

Ada Lovelace Day and International Day of the Girl Child 2016

 

Women have long faced disproportionate barriers-of-entry into STEM fields. There are organizations in the western world providing support and resources, promoting women’s accomplishments, and even providing scholarships to help girls break into STEM fields, but what about less-developed areas of the world?

This year, Ada Lovelace Day – a celebration of women in STEM and their accomplishments – falls on the same day as International Day of the Girl Child, which aims to help progress girl’s issues worldwide to help them reach their full potential. Led by UN Women, one of their focuses for 2016 is child marriage in developing countries. Women in the western world face (among other things) gender-based discrimination which may prevent them from succeeding in a STEM field. On this interesting day of coincidence, it is worth reflecting on the barriers faced by women and girls in other parts of the world.

UN Women reports that one in three girls in developing countries are married before the age of 18. Besides the obvious human rights issues, the organization also reports that, “Child marriage usually means an end to girl’s education, vocation, and her right to make life choices.”

There is an interesting parallel that can be drawn between the life of Ada Lovelace and the focus of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child. At a time when girls in the western world were sometimes married young and women weren’t known for their accomplishments in math and science, Lovelace made a lasting contribution that is still admired today and has been the foundation of many women in STEM movements.

Lovelace’s mother made sure she got an education that her father despised (hooray for 19th Century feminism). She had already formed a clear identity of her own by the time she got married and was able to become the icon we so revere today. But what if she had been married young and had her education cut short? What advancements and contributions are we missing because one in three girls in developing countries are married before 18, losing their right to an education  and a better life of their own making?

Do we need to tackle the issue of women in STEM at home first, so that the arena is open to all? Should we try to engage with and provide resources for women in developing countries through existing programs? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

A Note from the Author

Thank you for reading my first blog post! As a female technology blogger, I thought it would be awesome for my first post to be about women in STEM and Ada Lovelace Day! You can look forward to content relating to open source software and Linux in the next few days! Please feel free to engage with me on social media and let me know what you thought about my perspective or what kind of content you’d like to see!

Sources

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/girl-child