Women face harsh and unfair path to STEM careers

Stereotypes and societal norms are sometimes causing over half of the population to shy away from the study of STEM-related topics outside of mandatory school courses. Namely, the female half. Picture a mathematician or a scientist. If your image matched the one that the media and society in general has normalized over the past few centuries, then you were likely picturing a male scientist. Where is this stereotype coming from? Look around, it starts at school, where female voices are already being stifled and sometimes ignored in STEM classes.

Adnan Askari, captain of SPA’s Science Alliance and a former participant in Advanced Scientific Research(ASR), said “I have noticed a frustrating disparity where obviously the girls on Science Team and in ASR are just as, or sometimes more, engaged and organized and frankly, smart, they’re sometimes sidelined and talked over.”

Because of this unfair treatment, some girls step away from STEM, towards humanities subjects, where they are often given more respect. And this trend doesn’t end in high school.

According to a 2016 article in the online addition of The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College’s newspaper, “STEM and humanities fields see gender disparity” by Carter Brace, “In an undergraduate student body evenly split between men and women, men still make up the disproportionate share of science, engineering and mathematics majors while women still make up a disproportionate share of arts and humanities majors.”

From there, lack of female participation in STEM classes and clubs becomes a lack of female representation in STEM fields. Take the Nobel Prize, for example. From 1901 to date, there have been 206 Nobel Laureates in Physics, yet only 2 or about .9% of which were women. Out of 177 past Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, 4 or approximately 2.3% were women. Of the 214 past Nobel Laureates in Medicine and Physiology, 12 or about 5.6% have been female. Overall, about 2.9% of Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine were female. Compare this to the fact that 14 out of the 114 Nobel Laureates in Literature have been female, making up about 12.3% of the winners in that category. From this, the conclusion can be drawn that the percentage of female Nobel Laureates in humanities-related categories is more than four times that of the percentage of female Nobel Laureates in STEM-related categories.

Those percentages start in the classroom. Where belittlement and disrespect from male members of the community are shrinking girls’ confidence in their potential in STEM.

So how are we meant to repair the damage caused to our society by centuries of inequality? By starting small, within the SPA community. To begin this process, two things need to occur. Firstly, the dismissal and disrespect of girl’s ideas and opinions regarding STEM, and other subjects for that matter, needs to stop.

Belittlement and disrespect from male members of the community are shrinking girls’ confidence in their potential in STEM.

Askari said, “It’s definitely a problem that extends beyond STEM, for sure, the idea of girls who are very smart and talented being talked over and kind of sidelined and silenced, and I think the easiest thing [for male students] to do is just stop talking and listen, be respectful. And that isn’t something that comes naturally to people, it’s actually something that you have to be aware of and be conscious of.”

Secondly, some girls are not even aware of opportunities open to them in STEM, because they are not being informed of them.

For example, about the Science Alliance, freshman Mina Mandic said, “I don’t know much about it, all I know is that it’s a club at SPA.” Many freshman girls know very little about the Science Alliance, and some haven’t even heard of it.

Another freshman, Isabel Toghramadjian, said, “I don’t really have a perception of the Science Alliance because I don’t really know a lot about them.”

It is vital for girls to know that they are valued on STEM-related teams, clubs, and activities, which will only occur if students and faculty in leadership roles on these groups make an active and conscious effort not only to get them through the door, but to cultivate an environment where they are treated with respect.

Askari said, “It isn’t just an ‘out there’ problem, it’s a problem I’ve seen at SPA and in science classes at SPA.”

The bottom line is that sexism in STEM starts here, at school. Is there a better place to work towards ending it? I challenge male students to see their role in perpetuating sexism in STEM. Stop talking. Start listening.