My Relationship to STEM Fields

I take issue with the popular phrase “for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes seventy-three cents.” It’s not that I believe that a gender pay gap doesn’t exist. But I think that it’s a lot more complicated than the simple phrase implies.

Very rarely do a man and a woman apply for the exact same job with the exact same qualifications and references. Due to societal pressures, women usually do not to choose to major in science, technology, engineering, or math. STEM majors normally make more money after graduation than non-STEM majors. These are not secrets. Anybody will agree with these statements, though there are, of course, ample exceptions.

So when we are saying that a woman makes only seventy-three cents to every man’s dollar, we are not necessarily arguing about strict dollar amounts. We are, in essence, saying that women don’t have high-paying careers because they don’t study the “right” subjects in college. Recently, I’ve seen lots of encouragement for women to pursue science. I understand that maybe if women were given more support, then perhaps we would see more women in STEM. I’m all about seeing more women major in these fields, and I respect any woman who does so successfully.

Let’s look at a real-world example. My brother has an uncanny ability to multiply two-digit numbers in his head. Literally, give him any two-digit numbers, and he can multiply them in about five seconds. He’s been able to do this for as long as I can remember. And for as long as I can remember, I have been reading books and writing stories.

My brother sees the world in a very logical, mathematical way, but he very rarely opens a book. I think I can craft a pretty darn good sentence, but ask me to do a simple computation in my head and I’ll get completely flustered. Are these different strengths and weaknesses completely dependent on random chance? My brother just happened to be the child who got the math gene? Or does it really have something to do with the fact that he is a male and I am a female?

I have come to accept that my brother will always make more money than I will. Since his graduation, he has worked as a financial analyst. He works in an industry that generally pays more money to its employees, whereas I plan to enter an industry that does not pay as much. The industry that I plan to enter also has a large majority of women workers, many of whom have graduated with English, journalism, or art majors, whereas my brother’s industry has a large number of male workers, many of whom have graduated with economics or business majors. But in choosing my major and choice of career, have I simply accepted my fate as a woman, forever doomed to be subordinate to men, who will always make more money than I will? Were these choices of mine even conscious, or was my gender, which requires that I must be bad at math, choosing it for me?

Or is this something that society has decided, valuing strengths in science and math above all other strengths?

I don’t know. What I do know is that, yes, I am better at reading and writing than I am at math. And, if I continue to pursue my chosen career, I will never make as much money as my brother will if he continues to pursue his. But I refuse to believe that is entirely because I am a woman.


Image Credit: Feature, Annmarie Morrison, 1