Addressing the gender gap in STEM


Isabella Chen, Staff Writer

Walk into any engineering or math club and you might notice that there are more male members than female. You may assume that it’s simply because more males are interested in STEM, but this reflects the gender stereotypes that are persistent in our society.While gender stereotypes have been present in numerous career fields, they have been the most present in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), which are often viewed as predominantly geared toward males. According to Zippia, a job recruitment site, only around 15% of engineers are female. In recent years, there has been improvement in addressing these stereotypes, but their dominance is still rooted in history. The process of achieving gender equality is only slowly progressing, as a 2020 Forbes article found that 45% of students in STEM fields were females, a five percent increase over the previous decade. 

There is no scientific evidence that women are worse at STEM subjects, but the generational ideologies passed down can be difficult to change. One factor is parents’ expectations for their children and how they encourage girls to pursue traditionally female-dominated fields, like the humanities, while boys are often encouraged to seek STEM fields. The Institution of Engineering and Technology, a professional British society, found that only seven percent of parents said they would encourage their daughters to pursue engineering careers. These expectations for girls can discourage them from going into these fields purely because it was never in their minds from a young age to even consider going into STEM.

Similar trends occur in the learning environment. At school, teachers may unintentionally reinforce these gender stereotypes by either not providing equal opportunities for females in STEM or by communicating that STEM subjects aren’t suitable for them. Teachers may also discourage females from going into STEM by providing them with alternative fields to go into, further stereotyping them, which will cause them to doubt their abilities and reinforce stereotypes that females are less capable in STEM than males. It will also compel females to question why they would major in something inappropriate for them.

Furthermore, workplaces often don’t provide the flexibility and support needed for women to balance their work and family life, such as policies like paid parental leave and flexible working hours. Zippia informs that in 2023 only around 40% of employers offer paid maternity leave.  This can be detrimental as STEM careers often require long work hours, which can be challenging for women who feel they can’t keep up with their family responsibilities, ultimately making them opt for more flexible careers that offer more of a work-life balance.

With these factors deterring females from going into the STEM field, there need to be more female role models, which would lead to more women pursuing STEM careers. Girls are generally more likely to go into a particular career path if there are role models who look like them and have similar backgrounds. However, if the trends of women in these fields don’t increase, it will create a never-ending cycle of fewer women in STEM. The lack of female representation can cause young girls to see STEM careers as unattainable, and this underrepresentation can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.

Regardless, there are many ways we can build confidence in girls going into STEM, and one way is by starting early. When children start their first counting lessons, more attention should be given to girls to ensure they don’t fail just because they believe they aren’t good at math. Therefore, girls need to be aware that girls and boys are equally capable of succeeding in these subjects. Once females do well in math and science, they will be more willing to explore STEM topics in their future education. Moreover, by providing girls with the opportunities to explore STEM subjects in supportive environments, such as encouraging them to participate in STEM-related extracurriculars like Math Team and Science Club, providing access to role models, and more, they can develop the confidence and skills needed to succeed in these fields.

Addressing the gender gap in STEM requires breaking down gender stereotypes and inspiring everyone to reach their full potential regardless of their gender. By dealing with stereotypes at an early stage of education, through encouragement towards girls to explore STEM subjects from parents and teachers, we will see more women thrive in STEM and increase diversity in the workforce.