When you think of a computer science major, what image pops into your head? I know many people think of a ton of geeky guys who probably could use a shower. The problem with this image is that it’s true, because not many people think of women in computer science. There is not a large interest in computer science from women. And why would there be? The discrimination against women is enough in and of itself to turn women away.
According to the United States Department of Commerce, only 24 percent of STEM jobs are held by women. Furthermore, in 2015, engineering had the lowest percentage of females, with only 14 percent of jobs held by women. Computer science and math occupations followed with only 24 percent, and physical and life sciences were at 43 percent female. What’s keeping women away?
I don’t have a concrete answer for this — solely speculation. I think that perhaps while some girls can and are very good at STEM subjects, they are generally more encouraged in English and humanities areas. I know that for myself, I had little interest in math until senior year of high school, when my calculus teacher encouraged me and recognized my work. Conversely, I had been commended by my different English teachers from the start of high school. I am not saying that this is the case for all girls, but I really do think that teacher investment has a lot to do with it. All four years of high school I had English teachers who were extremely empowering and who encouraged me to pursue a career in English because they believed in me and my capabilities, while my math and science teachers were not only bad at explaining but also incredibly boring. I remember specifically during my senior year, my biology teacher taught both AP Biology and Intro Biology for Freshmen, so both my sister, a freshman, and I had him back-to-back periods, and almost every day we would see each other and joke about how incredibly boring the class was. Believe me, the only thing that could make a Punnett Square even more boring was his monotonous voice. Getting girls interested in STEM at a young age is probably the most important thing we can do to change this. I have linked a great article covering this here.
Of all women in STEM, 59 percent had Physical and Life Sciences degrees, 19 percent had Engineering degrees, 14 percent had Math degrees and 8 percent had Computer Science degrees. As a female going into Computer Science, I am concerned. The negative stereotypes that surround women in STEM, especially in technology and engineering, turn women away from declaring degrees in them. After all, who would want to go into a career that’s not only difficult but presents dysfunctional attitudes in the workplace with gender stereotypes? Even people who consciously reject stereotyping can, at some subconscious level, still hold those beliefs. This is best seen in the generalization that science and math fields are filled with males and humanities and arts with females. On top of the subconscious stereotypes, women also face overt discrimination and many times face a bind – being viewed as less competent if they are not clearly successful or being viewed as less likable when she is successful. In fact, a study done by Pew Research Center discovered that 50 percent of women in STEM jobs have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, and even higher percentages occurred in certain STEM subsets: 78 percent in majority-male workplaces and, consequently, 74 percent of women working in computer science careers. It is not just male-female discrimination. In fact, a study done by AACW showed that in trial job interviews, males were more likely to be hired by both female and male recruiters. This gender disparity is not only in the workforce, however, but even seen in college classrooms. In fact, one of the required classes for a computer science major at SMU, Data Structures, had 9 females out of a total of 67 students. In another class, Discrete Computational Structures, the percentage is approximately 13 percent female.
It bothers me that women are not more interested in STEM fields, but I also understand that STEM is not for everyone. Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying — I personally have never felt discriminated against here at SMU, at least, not that I noticed. However, I am fully aware that in my future career, there is a high chance that I will face it at some point. Here’s what I’m saying: if us girls don’t have each other’s backs, be it in STEM, history, or business management, who will? When it comes to women, regardless of major, interest, or career, we really, really should support each other. After all, Beyonce said we run the world, so let’s start treating each other like it!