Why Women Avoid STEM Fields and How to Fix ItFebruary 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!