As a first-generation Ethiopian-American, I have always wondered about the inequality of wealth between countries and the wealth between the individuals who inhabit them. I have also wondered how certain countries became poor or rich with the disproportionate levels of wealth and poverty within their borders.
In my studies, I have learned that there are many reasons for the disproportionate wealth accumulation. The one that caught my attention since it is one of my interests was education – in particular STEM education for women.
STEM or “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” is one of the least-selected career paths for women. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women comprise only 29 percent of the workforce in science and engineering making it a male-dominated field. This is in line with how STEM is socially perceived as a male-dominated discipline. One reason for this perception is the stereotype that men are better at approaching STEM related topics than women.
The American Association of University Women, a non-profit organization that advances equity for women and girls, explained that Stereotype Threat and Implicit Bias play two major roles in how there are so little women in STEM. Stereotype threat is an event that occurs when a negative stereotype threatens a person’s performance. One example is where a female student takes a math exam and experiences more cognitive and emotional burdens of worry due to the stereotype that women are not good at math. A woman taking an exam in a room of men can cause this effect and as a result increases pressure and lowering ideal performance. This “implicit bias,” or unconscious belief can be powerful in how a woman chooses which career or educational field to enter.
How can we prevent this inequality? What are STEM advocates doing today? Why should women care about STEM? Women need more exposure to these fields. Some women believe these courses are complicated and while they can be, it is very rewarding to complete them. I have taken multiple engineering courses and while they are challenging, they have been very helpful not only in my studies, but in all matters of life. No matter what career path one takes, STEM is likely to help in the future as it will be in some way related to the tasks you have in life and in work.
I wanted to find out more about the topic of women and STEM, so I inquired and interviewed the teachers and students at my high school, St. Charles North High School.
St. Charles North High School Computer Science Teacher Kristen Cruthers explained to me, “Technology is needed for everything. More people will need to be exposed to it.” No matter what career field one enters, STEM will be needed in one form or another. Science, a fundamental subject, will help in understanding various topics such as how the human body works or how physics works. Technology aids in helping people understand future inventions and ideas. Engineering helps create new products to help make lives easier and although we rarely notice, Mathematics is needed for everything you do – from calculating how much your end of the day groceries costs or how much to tip at a local restaurant. Educating one’s self in these topics will only help establish a well-rounded education and make life easier.
What can STEM do to end the inequality? Women are being pushed out of the field because they do not understand what they are capable of. More and more passionate women who are interested in bringing change to the world are entering STEM. By having women prove themselves and breaking gender stereotypes, women are inspiring others to make the change. “If you work hard enough, I think there can be equality,” Shaina Freeland, St. Charles North High School engineering student, said.
Matthew Kirby, guidance counselor at St. Charles North High School explained that young girls need women mentors “who show interest in math and/or science. That way, they can learn how to move forward in these fields and the misconceptions and hurdles to face.”
With more women entering the workforce and educating themselves more than ever, we need to provide successful women role models showing girls that they can excel in the same fields as “the boys.” We need more women to create opportunities for other women to get ahead in life by being role models for the future generations.
Contributed by Michelle S. Alemu