STEM Should Not Be a Boy’s Club. Let’s Stop Treating It Like One

It+is+not+women%E2%80%99s+fault+that+they+are+a+minority+within+STEM+fields.+The+lack+of+a+welcoming+environment%2C+that+is+created+as+a+result+of+misogyny+and+discrimination%2C+is+at+fault.+

Megan Snyder

It is not women’s fault that they are a minority within STEM fields. The lack of a welcoming environment, that is created as a result of misogyny and discrimination, is at fault.

By Isabella Simonutti, La Salle Catholic Preparatory High School

Though a myriad of women enter STEM with a staunch passion, many find themselves leaving with a disinterest, or even hate for the subjects surrounding science, technology, engineering, and math. 

This is not a coincidence. 

Only 9% of girls between the ages of 13-17 have expressed interest in pursuing a STEM-related career. This is a disturbingly low number in comparison to the 27% of boys, aged 13-17, who expressed an interest in a STEM-related career. 

The discrimination and hostile environment that women who are interested in STEM experience is the main contributor to the departure of women in STEM fields of study.

This issue of inequity is not isolated to recent years. 

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study dating back to 2009 found that young people who have a passion for STEM lose interest due to a lack of role models and mentors to admire. 

This study is even more applicable to young women. 

As women make up less than 30% of scientists, young women have a smaller pool of potential role models than men. If a woman is unable to see herself in the people she might potentially admire, she would be justified in feeling as if she doesn’t belong in the world of STEM. 

The STEM industry prides itself on its impressive technological advancements, so why is an industry that bases its existence on human progress lacking proportionate demographic representations? 

The problem isn’t that there is a lack of interest by women to pursue a career in STEM, the problem is the lack of support for women entering the field. 

As a woman who has always had an affinity for STEM, and as someone who has immersed myself into the world of STEM from a young age, I am no stranger to this kind of discrimination and hostility. 

I have been called nicknames like “sandwich maker” or “team dishwasher” by male peers who were blatantly targeting me because I was the only girl in the room. 

The undermining of my intelligence and identity has become a consistent and routine experience for me when I have decided to dive into my hobbies. 

This is unacceptable. 

How can we encourage and expect teenage girls to take the initiative and be courageous enough to delve into the world of STEM when discrimination has become routine? 

After my experiences, I can understand and empathize with women who shy away from their passion for STEM due to a hostile and distasteful environment. 

It is our collective responsibility to not only make the effort and encourage women to join STEM, but it is also our duty to ensure they are given a safe and accessible environment where they do not have to feel as if they are battling to prove their place. 

At La Salle, educators can change this perception by encouraging young women to choose electives like computer science and to try out advanced science and math classes. Educators can also implement lessons on women scientists, and teach students about the accomplishments of women like Tiera Fletcher Guinn, an employee at Boeing who is working on building the space launch system for NASA, or Jennifer Doudna who received a Nobel prize for her astounding work on CRISPR gene editing. 

Teaching young women that it is a realistic possibility for them to become successful in STEM is the first step in achieving the goal of an inclusive and equitable industry. 

The second step is ensuring that men in STEM understand their role in this issue. 

The blunt truth is that the STEM industry is competitive, and men benefit from the inequity that women face. For example, men are paid more than women: for every dollar a man makes, a woman in the STEM industry makes $0.86 to that dollar. Meaning, it is in men’s best interest to ignore inequity and discrimination in the field. 

To change this, men in STEM need to understand their passivity towards this prejudice. Passiveness contributes and continues a centuries-old problem.

This is why it is so important that once women are in the STEM industry, they are treated with the same level of respect that their male counterparts are being treated with. 

This starts with the men in STEM-related careers acknowledging the inequity women are faced with and working to resolve this inequity by educating themselves about the discrimination women experience, or encouraging and helping to implement affinity groups in places where women are minorities. 

Technological advancements cannot be monopolized by white men. 

Despite the technological progress made by STEM, it hasn’t contributed to necessary social advancements in gender equality. 

We must encourage young women to pursue their passions, fight inequity, and ensure that young women know they are needed in scientific and technological fields. 

This story was originally published on The La Salle Falconer on January 5, 2022.