by Rhea Shajan
On my first day in college walking to my math lecture hall, I was excited to learn about data and logic-- something that I found challenging yet fascinating. That feeling was short-lived however when I first stepped foot in the classroom. I scanned the large room, every seat taken by men. I warily scanned the crowd to find any women and found only five in the back of the room.
It was hard to ignore the imposter syndrome that started creeping in within the first few weeks. While I still liked the material being taught, I felt insecure about my own capabilities and my confidence was lacking. In group projects, I refrained from sharing my ideas in fear that they would automatically be turned down by all the men in my group. It was a constant internal struggle to fight against self-doubt and prove my intelligence so they could value my ideas.
This feeling I described, however, is a fairly common experience shared by many women in STEM. The gender disparity in these classrooms is pretty significant, even with some of the changes that have been made in the past few decades. While I do appreciate how more women are pursuing STEM careers, the change hasn't fully translated into the classrooms. There still are a lot fewer females than males taking STEM-related courses. This, I believe, should be addressed so that women don't get intimidated by this gender disparity and look the other way. I believe that what deters many women from the STEM field is the lack of representation and inclusion in STEM classrooms which in fact plays a big role down the line when the applicant pool for STEM careers has more men than women.
What the Research Says
A study from Edutopia highlights that girls perform as well as boys in math. Some points to consider:
Nationally, math test scores for girls have been consistently equal to or within two points of boys in fourth and eighth grades over several years; middle school girls pass algebra at higher rates than boys.
In science, girls perform on par with boys and enroll in advanced science and math courses at equal rates as they move into high school.
A gender gap in participation starts to appear as girls take fewer of the more advanced STEM courses and tests as they get closer to college. This gap widens the longer girls are in school and is often compounded by issues of race and class
It is clear that women are capable of pursuing these fields, as their test scores highlight their technical abilities. The question this prompts then, is how do we encourage women to pursue STEM and feel more included in the classrooms?
I believe in order to get more women to pursue STEM careers, we should make STEM classrooms feel more inclusive. How do we do this? We have to instill the idea that women are in fact capable of revolutionizing and making big strides in these fields. We, women, need vision and inspiration to know that we are as adept and skillful as men to contribute to the sciences. Currently, many female students may feel insecure about taking STEM courses, but we can combat this by hanging flyers for STEM extracurriculars, and creating school clubs and organizations organized for women to work on STEM projects. This way their confidence can be built and fully supported through these hands-on experiences. This way, women who are passionate about STEM will feel more confident to pursue these fields and take such courses.
For further inspiration, it would also be a great idea for women in STEM careers to come into the classrooms and share their contributions to the sciences and their experiences in the field. Creating this space allows women to feel more comfortable and motivated about pursuing STEM, knowing that other women have been successful in these fields.
Organizations Leading The Way:
Fortunately there are various organizations that are taking initiative to pave the way for more women in STEM through integrated programs and guilds for women to actively participate in. A few of these organizations include:
StemGems Book: Giving girls and young women role models in STEM, and opening their eyes to a world of opportunity.
Smithsonian Science Education Center: Through their involvement in many STEM initiatives which seek to cultivate female STEM, manufacturing and design interests at an early age, Smithsonian has a long list of FREE 1-hour STEM lessons, 15-minute activities and STEM empowerment resources.
Girls Who Code: To build the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States, Girls Who Code offer learning opportunities for their students and alumni to deepen their computer science skills and confidence.
Girls Who Code has also created programs that foster clear pathways for middle and high school alumni who are looking to emerge into the computing world. Through a supportive sisterhood of peers and role models, Girls Who Code is working to create persistent, successful women in STEM.
Bonus Resource - BrickLAB STEAMventures: By integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math into hands-on learning activities, these themed collections explore a variety of topics to help young learners discover their interests. Additionally, the BrickLAB STEAMventures Build Site is the ultimate spot to grab free resources that will help you ignite learners’ passions for STEAM. The digital choice board format makes it easy for learners of all ages to access information and activities that complement each BrickLAB STEAMventures collection. Plus, you’ll find videos organized by age group, perfect for the whole class, a small group or independent learning.
To sum up, it is essential for there to be diversity in STEM. With greater diversity comes innovation, new ideas, and a brighter future. We should pave the way for women to follow their dreams, and not let them feel intimidated by the subjects they enjoy merely because society has made these fields male-dominated. To make this progress however, change must start in the classrooms.
Women Innovators In STEM