Girls in STEM: Why So Few?

Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy. Molecular and Cellular Biology. Biomedical Engineering. Actuarial Science. All of these are subjects that I and my close friends are majoring in. These majors all fall under the category of STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. My friends and I are all young women; however, very few girls are pursuing a degree in STEM. 

You might ask, why is this? 

The main reason is this: STEREOTYPES. 

From a young age, it is widely believed that boys are better at math and science, and girls are better at the literature and the arts. When a girl decides to pursue a degree in STEM, there is an unspoken bias in the classroom that she knows less than her male counterparts. An article discussing the challenges facing women in STEM explains this bias, in that inside a STEM classroom (where men typically outnumber women 3 to 1), male students tend to ask questions, discuss problems with, and rely on their male counterparts more often than with their female counterparts. 

Feeling inferior to their male counterparts leads to another bias for females pursuing a STEM degree: majoring in STEM leads to a more challenging, hostile environment. By feeling as though they will never be able to compete with the men and will never be on the same intelligence level, many female STEM majors believe the field is alienating and too competitive, leading them to dislike and turn away from such fields. They turn to fields they believe to be more welcoming, such as the humanities and the arts.

These biases are reflective in the number of women actively pursuing degrees in STEM fields. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics highlighted how in 2016, only 35.5% of all bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields were received by females. The study specifically mentioned how, especially in the engineering and architecture fields, there are even fewer women pursuing degrees. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I decided to take an “Introduction to Electronics” elective course, that dealt with the basics of electronics such as programming, circuits, and various technological topics. Much to my dismay, I realized on the first day of classes that I was the only girl in the class. I, a small female freshman, had to sit amongst junior and senior boys who seemed to know the ins and outs of everything the class involved. I came home that first day stressed as could be, not knowing how on Earth I would survive. I knew that if I stayed in the class, I’d make a fool of myself for attempting to learn about a topic of which I had so little knowledge. 

Little did I know that the class would be one of the best classes I’d take in high school. I managed to successfully learn the intricate material and even did better than many of my male counterparts. It really got me interested in technology and how stuff works, and I owe my dedication to STEM to that elective class.

There are many reasons as to why women pursue degrees in STEM less often than their male counterparts. No matter the reason, however, the future is bright: in 2019, women are starting to pursue degrees in these fields more than ever. Nowadays, parents are teaching their kids to pursue their interests no matter the stereotypes. Girls are breaking gender biases and are pursuing their passions. The STEM fields are changing, and they’re becoming more feminine for the better!