The world has progressed tremendously in terms of gender equity. When compared to the past few decades, the wage gap has narrowed as women’s participation in the workforce has grown.
However, something still seems to be amiss when it comes to the domain of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. On the surface, this could come across as an overstatement.
But a closer look only reveals a gender gap hole that is still gaping in 2023. According to a study, only 18% of women are a part of STEM-related fields in their higher education. This stands in striking contrast to 35% of men. With a global scenario still this backward, what is the solution?
Let’s begin by understanding the leading causes first. Come along as this article explores the existing gender gap in STEM education and the possible ways to rectify the situation.
Factors Perpetuating Gender Gaps in STEM Education
Let’s look at the different factors responsible for promoting or widening gender gaps in STEM education:
1. Gender Stereotypes
One major reason why women’s participation in STEM fields is so sparse is the existing gender stereotypes in society. The areas of STEM education are still seen as highly masculine fields of study.
Though parents and teachers say that they’re willing to allow girls to step forward, they often end up underestimating the problem-solving and math skills of the female brain. Naturally, they never know that their daughters can perform well in STEM subjects.
2. Lesser-Known Role Models
Another reason why STEM education is not so popular among girls is that they do not have sufficient role models to look up to. There are a handful of female engineers and scientists, but their story is never easily brought up in STEM circles.
This is all the more true of the Black community, where women are highly under-represented in STEM fields.
3. The Lack of Math Confidence
One of the most prevalent self-destructive ideas circulating in American society is that of the math brain. Even though science does not support the idea that there are any significant biological differences in the brain of a man and woman when it comes to math, people still underestimate girls.
Some teachers might even grade girls more strictly since they believe that they need to work harder to achieve the same results as boys. As early as the third grade, some girls may lose confidence in their analytical capabilities when no clear performance differences are seen.
4. Male-Dominated Cultures
This reason in itself may be considered a vicious cycle. Since so few women receive any recognition in STEM education, these fields tend to perpetuate the idea of inflexible male-dominated cultures.
This picture is not at all attractive and may further deter women from pursuing STEM education.
The culmination effect of these factors is such that very few women are able to keep STEM-related courses for their college majors.
Closing the Gaping Divide: What Will it Take?
Listed below are some possible ways in which this gender gap issue can be dealt with:
1. Addressing the Lack of Math Confidence
The initiative must first be taken by teachers and professors who raise awareness about a girl’s capability to understand Mathematics. Then, both parents and teachers must offer equal opportunities to their daughters.
There’s a need to change the mindset from intrinsic abilities to learned skills – girls can also improve their math skills over time. Relevant role models must often be used as examples to motivate girls in STEM.
2. Introducing STEM Opportunities in K-12 Education Itself
Elementary school teachers must hold girls and boys to the same grading standards when it comes to Math. No biases must be enforced, and every student must receive equal exposure to computer science and engineering-related subjects.
If possible, girls can be taught summer and after-school STEM classes where they receive encouragement, assistance, and awareness regarding career prospects.
3. Making STEM More Welcoming for Women in Colleges
Colleges and universities need to design their curriculum in a manner that it’s more inviting and inclusive of women in STEM studies. The power dynamics of a hierarchal relationship between students and faculty members must be discouraged.
Initiatives are already in place, with resources like Proprep’s STEM for college students offering personalized support for every STEM course. Proprep provides a wide array of learning resources, including video tutorials, study guides, and practice questions, to help students with STEM subjects. The idea is to study smarter through plenty of video tutorials, each followed by numerous opportunities for practice.
This will empower women to tackle even the most challenging topics with ease.
4. Improving Job Hiring and Retention of Women
Due to the perpetuated male-domination myth, many workplaces are hesitant to hire women for STEM fields. Such practices need to stop. Women recruitment and retention are vital for continued training and professional development.
Besides job flexibility, a welcoming environment must be created for women through equitable pay, strong leave policies, and anti-bias mentorship and training.
If a girl child requests a second year in Algebra instead of a continued fifth in Latin, it would not be appropriate for any teacher or parent to detest the idea simply because the request comes from a lady. No woman (at least in the modern world) wishes to stay in calm waters all their life.
It’s time to break the bias surrounding STEM education (that shockingly still exists). With increased women’s participation, we might just see advancements and changes we never deemed possible!