It’s no secret that there is a certain patriarchal exclusivity within professional science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Throughout history, there have been few accepted and respected places or acknowledgments of women in these fields. The societies of modernity have been challenging this marginalizing pattern, making it easier and much more acceptable for young women to pursue a career in STEM.
Approximately 52 percent of the college-educated STEM workforce is women; my best friend Kelly Doyle hopes to play a part in increasing that percentage as a STEM student with a prospective career in Marine Science. At the University of Florida, Kelly takes a plethora of STEM classes for her major. Consequentially, she has directly experienced what it means to be a 21st-century woman in STEM.
Her Campus (HC): As a female STEM student, are you part of a minority in your class population?
Kelly Doyle (KD): With my major being Marine Science, I am often faced with the reality of being one of the only females within my field. Most of my classes, ranging from physics to chemistry, are male-dominated.
HC: Is it evident in your curriculum that women are a minority in the STEM field? If so, how is it evident, explicitly or implicitly?
KD: It is extremely evident that women are a minority in the STEM field. All of the Marine Science advisors are male, and most of the students within my classes are males. It is explicit that STEM has a male majority, as most engineering and science fields are fundamentally male-dominated.
HC: Does the female minority in STEM affect how you are taught or treated in your classes by professors or peers?
KD: I remember one of my male peers asking me what my major was, and when I told him, he looked shocked and said, “You don’t strike me as someone who’s smart.” This has stuck with me as it is a common scenario in which a male degrades a female. Teaching-wise, I feel that most of my professors treat each student equally. However, the issue is that there are more male STEM teachers than females; this doesn’t exactly boost any women’s confidence within this field.
HC: What are some challenges/limitations you have faced as a female STEM student? How have you overcome these challenges?
KD: The main challenge I face is getting “mansplained” by my male peers. Meaning, when I ask someone of the male gender a question, they tend to respond with small words and sarcasm. I have overcome this challenge by speaking up for myself, as I strongly believe that I do not deserve to be talked to that way. Another challenge is the limited number of female advisors in my field. When discussing my future, I feel more comfortable talking it over with a female, as I feel they better understand and empathize with the challenges I face day-to-day.
HC: Do you think the minority of women in STEM creates a certain marginalization of those women? If so, what challenges/limitations does this marginalization create? How does it affect female students and professionals in STEM? How do you plan to overcome these challenges as a future STEM professional?
KD: Women of the STEM fields are treated poorly in comparison to men. This is due to the lack of gender equality within society and the ignorance of the male species. Women of this field are often degraded and metaphorically stepped on to make more room for men. Nevertheless, more programs have been made available to support women in STEM. For example, the club “Women in STEM” was just implemented at my school. This club creates a safe space for every female and allows them to overcome gender marginalization in their fields. In the future, I plan on continuing to challenge myself and reach the goals I set. I strive to compete with my male counterparts, ultimately beating them out. I know what it feels like to be degraded by a male; I also know how much that makes me want to prove them wrong.
HC: How can STEM professors and professionals help combat the marginalization of women in their fields? What are some solutions you think should be applied to this issue?
KD: STEM professors could encourage the attendance of the “Women in STEM” club. It functions as a space for us females to build a community and work together to achieve greater things. I think this issue is rooted in traditional, outdated societal norms and gender roles – the men were the workers and educators while the women were the uneducated child-bearers, cooks and cleaners. Although we now live in the 21st century, our society is unwilling to relinquish this sexist outlook.
Women in the STEM workforce earn an annual average of $15,000 less than their male counterparts. Women who begin college planning to major in STEM fields change to non-STEM majors at a rate that is almost 50-percent. Another 50 percent statistic goes to the number of women in STEM who have faced gender discrimination. The struggles and marginalization of women of color in STEM are exponentially higher and more difficult to overcome.
The number of women in board positions of STEM-related industries increased by 18 percent in 2020, so more boardrooms will look like the one in the image above. There is hope for future young women in STEM with my bad a** best friend Kelly Doyle in the mix. She has no problem putting men in their place when they dare to challenge her abilities. Men don’t realize how high we women can fly until we’ve done it better than them and leave them in our dust.