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Girls in STEM

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The creator of the first computer algorithm, the Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, the CEO of Yahoo, the 2014 Nobel Physiology or Medicine Prize winner, and CFO of Google all have something in common. They are all females.

Females’ roles in twenty-first century career fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are unique. Emerging in fields dominated by men, females are breaking old barriers. Whether they are responsible for the latest concepts in technology, successful start-up companies, or innovative solutions, it is clear that females are unafraid to make an impact.

However, it is easy to recognize that females still face many challenges in STEM fields.

Females receive over half of all bachelor’s degrees in the biological sciences; however, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (18.2%), engineering (19.2%), physics (19.1%), and mathematics and statistics (43.1%) (NSF, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015). As a result, this majority of males in such majors is intimidating and unsettling to females.

Even though we live in a modern society where a considerable amount of the population believes in gender equality, there are still many who believe in the stereotypical abilities of females. Taught at a young age that they have different strengths than boys, girls often accept their incompetence in math as compared to that of boys. In a study titled On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases by Victor Lavy and Edith Sand, the results suggested that teachers’ common biases favoring boys have a detrimental effect on girls’ achievements, a negative impact on students’ enrollment in advanced level math courses, and, consequently, a smaller portion of girls studying in the STEM field.

On the other hand, some research attributes the lack of females in STEM fields to scientific reasons. In the book The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls by Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy Williams, the authors analyze the three main reasons for the pattern of women in math-intensive fields; innate ability, social and cultural bias, and general interest. The book concludes that the phenomenon is actually a result of women’s choices, and not sex differences in math and spatial ability.

Recent recognition of these challenges has resulted in many individuals’ and groups’ efforts to augment the ability of women to contribute to STEM fields. The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) is an organization with the purpose of uniting smaller groups with a common goal of encouraging girls into the STEM fields. It offers a network of opportunities for girls in the hopes of improving the representation of females.

As stated in their mission statement, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) was established in 1950 to “Stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders…” The SWE provides various scholarships and services to females pursuing engineering. Numerous universities are also looking to increase the ratio of females to males in STEM departments. This plays a favorable role for girls applying to study STEM majors.

Overall, the representation of females in STEM roles has definitely improved, but there is still room for further advancement. As STEM education for young girls is encouraged more and more, there is no doubt the world will soon have a larger group of incredible female scientists and innovators. Females may have stereotypes working against them, but the support of their efforts has STEM strength.

Learn More

On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases


National Girls Collaborative Project: Girls in STEM Statistics


This Budding Scientist-Entrepreneur Puts The Girls-In-STEM Problem In New Perspective


Gender Diversity in Silicon Valley: A Comparison of Silicon Valley Public Companies and Large Public Companies


Society of Women Engineers


25 STEM Women You Should Know


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