Woman have always been underrepresented in the STEM fields. The problem is that despite our awareness of the issue, men continue to dominate in these fields, and women's numbers just aren't growing. Heather R. Huhman, notes in her piece in Forbes,
A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found only one in seven engineers is female. Additionally, women have seen no employment growth in STEM jobs since 2000. No matter where you turn, the stats are grim. Today, women hold only 27 percent of all computer science jobs, and that number isn’t growing. This is unsurprising when we take into account how many women are actually studying computer science in college; less than 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women, even though female graduates hold 60 percent of all bachelor’s degreesarticle in the New York Times last week reminded us of this fact yet again, this time articulating how bias persists against women in science. A new study by researchers at Yale concluded "science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills." This was true of both men and female science professors (tangentially proving Nicholas D. Kristof's assertion, in his NY Times Opinion piece, Women Hurting Women, that women are not immune from causing harm to their fellow gender-mates). This bias directly affects the success and promotion of women in science. The most notable in my opinion is that the report found that "professors were less likely to offer the women mentoring or a job." Looking back on my own personal story, mentors had a profound effect on my intellectual pursuits and confidence.
Only 7 years ago, the President of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, foolishly shared his own stereotypical bias aloud at an academic conference by attributing the low numbers and lack of success of women in science to innate differences between men and women and lack of women's own interest in science or their innate unwillingness to do what it takes. While Summers received heavy criticism and backlash to his comments, this Yale study reminds us that Summers was neither alone nor in the minority. In fact, today Rui Dai reminded us in her Huffington Post article,"many people believe that the gender bias is a result of the inherent differences between men and women." This is not to say that all of this bias is due to obvious gender bias. In fact, some of this bias is likely subconscious, which is difficult to combat within ourselves and even more difficult to prove by those who are negatively affected by it.
In Part 2 of this piece, I will address some possible causes of women's lack of representation in STEM fields, included the impact of bias such as what was found in the Yale study. I also hope to discuss solutions to fixing this pervasive and troubling problem, including the role of law in accomplishing needed change.