It’s well-known that STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is a male dominated field. Only one in four jobs in STEM are held by women, according to a study done by UC San Diego. Stigma, stereotypes, and lack of representation hinders the pursuit of these careers for many individuals who don’t identify as a man.
In a study conducted by Frontiers in Education, children from kindergarten to grade 12 were asked to describe and draw a scientist. Out of 4,807 drawings only 28 of them were of female scientists. All 28 of those were drawn by younger children. Despite STEM females being underrepresented, don’t be fooled. There are many successful, capable women in this field and many more to come.
Dr. Jenna Yentes is one of those women. She is a biomechanics scientist and professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She and her colleagues have made waves in research on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She shared some of her experiences working in a male-dominated field and the challenges that can come with it.
“In my experience, it’s not that people are blatantly like, ‘Oh you’re a woman, you can’t do this.’ It’s more like you’d go to a meeting and people will ask you to order the food for a meeting, just because I’m a woman,” Dr. Yentes said.
Women in STEM have to work harder to earn the respect of their peers. Men are generally seen as the leaders in science, engineering and mathematics, while women are regarded as an assistant. Dr. Yentes mentioned people addressing male colleagues instead of her or asking her to take notes at every single meeting.
“Most of the women I know that are in STEM are there because some man along the way told them they wouldn’t make it,” Dr. Yentes said. “It is difficult for women in STEM and we need to think about the culture we’re creating.”
There’s an irrational fear of women taking over the field. Rather than working to make room for everyone, some worry making room for all will mean no room for them.
“It’s not trying to make women take over and steal all the seats,” Dr. Yentes explained. “I’m not here to take your seat at the table; I want you to add a chair.”
Reinventing the way society views women in STEM is not an overnight task. It takes persistence, being vocal about discrimination, building networks, improving education opportunities for children, encouraging females from every walk of life to believe in their abilities and so much more. Change takes constant effort, but the efforts are worth making.