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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at TCNJ chapter.

Men dominate the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce with women making up only 27% of the STEM industry, despite representing half the working population. One look at a computer science classroom will clearly illustrate the gender disparities in this field. 

Women who make it into STEM face further obstacles as their paychecks are about 74% of men’s median earnings. While this gap narrowed from 72% in 2016, it still undervalues the work done by women and makes securing a job even harder. 

Why is there a gender gap in STEM?

History reveals a precedent of intentionally excluding women in STEM based on sexist stereotypes that still pursue today. The most prominent example is that women are intellectually deficient and cannot handle the field. This is why society believed women should stay in the kitchen instead of coding on computers. 

For instance, Harvard-educated physician, Edward Hammond Clarke, made outrageous claims that as a female’s brain grows, her ovaries shrink, and higher education would lead to harmful health conditions. Clarke’s studies on this topic were widely popular during the 19th century. 

There are many role models men can look up to in the STEM industry, but girls do not have the same advantage. Years of blacklisting women from these jobs make STEM seem like a boys-only club where women feel like outsiders. Those who make it face intimidation from their male colleagues and possibly even assault.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found 58% of female students in these fields experienced some form of sexual harassment or misconduct.

Knowing this reality deters women from breaking that glass wall, but not joining STEM only continues the problem. In addition to the regular rigorous academics, women work even harder to establish their place because of the stereotypes. Constantly fighting the belief that you do not belong can cause burnout in the long term, which prevents even more women from joining STEM. 

Affirmative action is essential in allowing disadvantaged groups to pursue underrepresented careers. However, there is a belief that it is only because of this initiative that people, such as women, could get the job. Female scientists are sometimes seen as only an equality quota and not taken seriously as a professional. Women are then not hired by STEM industries because men are viewed more capable. 

How can we fix this?

Education is the most effective solution to not only reveal gender inequality in STEM but inspire young women passionate about these subjects. This should start in early schooling where stigma starts to take form, thereby the next generation will change the current STEM culture. Highlighting the leading women in STEM would give girls a role model to see in themselves. 

Institutions must do better to include women, whether that be in higher education or technology companies. Challenging the norm requires extensive work and may even include challenging your own biases or that of your friends. 

Emma Ferschweiler is a TCNJ student who writes for Her Campus TCNJ!