Barriers to Closing the STEM Gender Gap
In the United States, I think the barriers to STEM are largely social. If all of the other girls in your grade or friend circle are not interested in science, many girls will likely decide to drop it and do what their friends are doing. There is peer pressure, societal pressure, intrinsic and unconscious bias.
Growing up, I was responsible for the “inside” chores—cleaning house, cooking, and doing dishes. My brother was responsible for the “outside” chores—lawn mowing, automotive work, and “fixing things.” I think those kind of intrinsic biases shape our expectations for the future. I consider it fortunate that I was pretty independent and outspoken as a kid! But not everyone is.
Only when we get past those intrinsic societal biases can we really make progress towards parity in STEM, particularly in the electronics and computation-based industries. There are even more challenging barriers in other parts of the world.
Moving STEM Women Forward
There must be more engagement for young girls, because someone who hasn’t been involved with STEM growing up is unlikely to be interested in it as a career. Schools are working on increasing diversity in STEM and there are more women in STEM careers, and that will be very helpful.
Women in STEM 5 Years Out
The engagement of women in STEM is already increasing, so in five years, we’ll see even more role models in high tech, engineering, and the math-based sciences. A lot of those women already in STEM fields are very vocal that this is something that girls can do—can succeed at. Sometimes, showing what’s possible gives confidence to those who are considering entering a field, which in turn increases the number of people who actually do it.
The abilities to work remotely and connect from remote locations will also continue to improve, and the requirement to be on site for work won’t be as significant any more. That is very helpful for women in STEM, since it means you can monitor your work from your lab or office by computer, allowing for a more flexible lifestyle.