Closing the STEM Gender Gap
We can down old gender stereotypes by making STEM education relatable and accessible to all, rather than presented in a context traditionally only relatable to a subset of kids. My first exposure to physics in school included examples primarily based on baseball, cars, and artillery cannons, which were not relatable or interesting to me. Diversifying and broadening the way we teach, and avoiding gender bias in the classroom, will help make the foundational concepts in STEM accessible to a wider audience of students.
Additionally, increasing the number of women teachers and mentors in STEM fields can help close the gender gap. A woman choosing a STEM career is often facilitated by having a female role model. For example, my high school advanced biology teacher was one of the few women instructors I had in high school and college. I gained confidence in her class and participated more than in my other STEM courses. I had excellent male mentors during college and graduate school, but as I started my career, I sought guidance from women in the field. The rise of women in leadership shows the younger generation that success in STEM is attainable.
Moving Women Forward in STEM
To move women forward in STEM, employers need to provide early opportunities for women to advance in their careers, including putting women forward for project leadership roles, committee positions, speaking engagements, and professional development and publishing opportunities. Gaining valuable experience early in your career can lead to advancement opportunities, the development of niche expertise, and recognition as an expert.
We need to see more women acknowledged as the “go-to” authorities in their fields. This will contribute to an increase in female role models across the STEM disciplines.
Women in STEM 5 Years down the Road
The changes to the way we learn, work, and interact with family that developed over the past year will likely impact women in STEM over the next five years. Now that remote working is more widespread, women may have more options regarding work schedules and career moves that fit their lifestyles. However, the added pressure of “around the clock” availability can disproportionately affect women who are balancing home life responsibilities. I hope the new norm will provide a more even playing field as women take advantage of these changes.