Why Women Avoid STEM Fields and How to Fix It

February 10, 2017 by Robin Mitchell

STEM fields are mostly male-dominated. But a few events are aiming to open doors for young female engineers.

Engineering has traditionally been a male-dominated field. But a growing number of events, organizations, and programs aims to open the door to STEM careers for girls.

A Boys-Only Club

Boys play with computers, use tools, build, and tinker. Girls play with dolls, concern themselves with fashion, and must learn not to interfere with boy-related subjects.


Depending on who you ask, that is the norm that many young people are exposed to.

The truth, however, is that while sex may give people preferences on interest (something which has next to no proof), the reason why men and women go into their specific job roles may depend on the gender make up that role. For example, women, on the whole, may be more inclined to become a nurse as the percentage of female nurses is approximately 90%.

If this is true, then women may not be in engineering roles due to how engineering (a predominantly male industry) has developed. Women were expected to stay at home and take care of the kids while men went out to work which essentially kept tech sectors all male–for that matter, most industries were all male.


Women were arguably the first programmers. Image courtesy of the US Army.


 And this is where the real problem lies, potentially 50% of engineering ability, progress, and brilliance is unused. The engineering field, as it currently stands, is estimated to be only 14% female so it’s about time that we as engineers find a way to bump that number so as not to discourage women in a male-dominated industry. However, we also need to ensure that women who may have an interest in engineering are not given the impression that engineering is only for men. 

Encouraging Women in STEM

To help encourage more women pursue STEM careers, organizations and institutions of education are holding events to get women into tech related subjects.


Sophie Wilson, the brilliance behind ARM. Image courtesy of Chris Monk [CC BY 2.0]


For example, ladieslearningcode host an annual event called "Girls Learn to Code" which teaches girls about programming and computers. The result is the creation of games which provides an interactive and fun introduction to a field that is otherwise considered “not for girls”.

Yet another example: In the 12th November, an annual event was held at Saint John called “Girls Learn to Code Day” which encourages girls to learn about computers and programming in a male dominated industry.

Of course, there are many other organizations, events, and charities that focus on female involvement in all industries including Women Engineering Society, National Women In Engineering Day, EngineeGirl, and WISE.

The Women Who Laid the Path

Women play a bigger role in science than many people may realize. There are many important individuals who made invaluable contributions to science and engineering.

Below is just a small list of women in engineering who prove that engineering is not just for men:

  • Sophie Wilson – Developed the ARM processor which is now found in most phones

  • Ada Lovelace – Worked on the Analytical Engine and developed the first algorithm for a computer

  • Grace Hopper – Programmed the first electronic computers, created the first compiler and popularized machine independent languages

  • Betty Holberton – One of the six original programmers for the ENIAC machine

  • Margaret Hamilton – Apollo computer programmer   


Margret Hamilton, without her there would be no Apollo Mission. Image courtesy of NASA.


Getting women involved in engineering is more than just about equal opportunity. Great strides in science can come from either gender and so it is therefore important for humanity to maximize the chance of discovery finding and technological advancements.

So not encouraging women to get involved could be a potential 50% waste of progress. From an engineering perspective, it's a rather silly idea. Support your local and national events to get kids of all kinds into STEM fields!

  • sjgallagher2 February 10, 2017

    I agree wholeheartedly with this article, except for this one thing. When you say that people having different preferences based on gender is not backed up by proof. You can’t cite a source for “lack of proof” and there’s no way to back up your claim. In fact, I find it very likely that such studies have been done many times in the last century. Proper fashion is to say that the claim has been refuted by research, or has come under scrutiny due to different experiments, followed by citations. In the way it is written, it seems amateurish and makes the article seem more like a Facebook post than a proper article.
    I have no opinion on whether personal preferences is “nature” or “nurture”, but leaving out any evidence for such a claim is a large error. Facts talk, opinions are just a grain of sand on a long beach.

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    • tim yb February 10, 2017
      Thanks for commenting. I see what you mean, citing a lack of evidence without associated research is more in the realm of speculation. From what I've read, it seems that the discrimination isn't on an institutional level, so much as it is on a personal level in day to day interactions. I was surprised to learn that 40% of women with engineering degrees either leave the industry or don't start working in it at all. I do think it's reasonable to speculate that women don't enter the field to begin with for these same reasons. Studies have shown that it has more to do with the environment than the subject matter. I found these articles and the studies they're linked to be really interesting:
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    • R
      Raymond Genovese February 10, 2017
      “The truth, however, is that while sex may give people preferences on interest (something which has next to no proof), the reason why men and women go into their specific job roles may depend on the gender make up that role.” While I think that you may be a bit harsh in your criticism it is not, however, without point. In my opinion, there is a kind of “simplicity” in this brief article that does not do justice to the complexity of the issues. That is typical of a terse treatment of a complicated subject. You are absolutely correct that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In this case, however, the quote (i.e., the first part of the quote above from the article including the parenthetic claim, “has next to no proof”) is, unfortunate. Gender differences in preferences and interests are not at all uncommon and there is a very large body of evidence that shows this to be the case. This is not to say that a gender difference in preference or interest represents some kind of fundamental characteristic that is immutable. In the vast majority of studies, a preference or interest is inferred by questionnaire and/or interview. You simply ask people (surveys) that’s it – that’s the big tool to find out what someone is interested in or prefers. When we see a disparity that has a significant gender factor, the questions for me become, why is this case and why is it important? So, if there are far fewer females than males in a field, and we want to reduce the disparity, then the answers to those two questions become integral. If one takes the view that one gender is simply less interested in the field or worse has less capacity for the field (whatever that means), then why bother to expend a lot of effort to reduce the disparity? I do not feel that way and I am not saying that you do. But, that is why it is so important that the research (and the reporting of the research) should not stop at simply noting a disparity, but goes further to try to get at the answers to those two questions. If it, simplistically, turns out that the disparity in the field is representative of a disparity in positive experiences (and there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that), then it makes sense to examine why the experiences are less positive for females than males (see the first citations below) as well as in the post by tim yb. It is important that we try to discover why the disparities exist and not just that they do exist. For example, RN's are dominated by females. About 92% in the US according to the Dept. of Labor back in 2003 ( A representative study in 2015 ( did not find much difference in that national figure. But, look at the breakdown by states! There is a huge range and in one state, males outnumber females! Why is that, I wonder? In my view, it is not necessarily scientifically sound to automatically suggest (or worse, legislate) that, in any field, getting a 50-50 representation of gender is required, or that doing so will automatically double the quantity or quality of achievement's in that field. I do believe that doing what you do well is some measure of happiness and advancement. I want to maximize the development and participation of all those who can do well (and that is pretty much everybody). I definitely do not want to put any limits on the personal capacity of others. That is why I think it is valuable to learn why the disparities exist. So, in a sense, my point is not that I disagree with your criticism of the article exactly, because there are lots of data that could have been cited, but that the real issues are in the reasons for the disparities. _______________________ Gender Differences in Factors Influencing Pursuit of Computer Science and Related Fields ( Sex Differences in Sports Interest and Motivation: An Evolutionary Perspective ( Gender Differences in Interest and Knowledge Acquisition: The United States, Taiwan, and Japan (
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