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A “Woman in STEM” has to be one of my most favorite titles that I carry. Being a math major, besides my personal passion for the subject, there is a certain empowerment that exists in pursuing a career in a male-dominated field. But other than being able to brag that you’re going to be a doctor or engineer, it also comes with the reality of implicit bias.

In my Computer Science class, we had an entire lecture about the topic, to which I saw several students walk out in the middle because they didn’t consider it “useful information” because being a decent human being is a fundamentally easy thing to think about, but the thing with implicit bias is that you act on those biases without any consciousness of it. I know that every woman that’s been in a primarily male class has faced the occasion where they are being talked down to or someone is mansplaining to them. But their behaviors are so minuscule that you can even convince yourself that it hadn’t even happened or that you are imagining it all yourself.

In most of my math classes, I constantly face this pressure that I need to prove to everyone else that I can keep up with the curriculum and excel in order to earn my classmates’ respect. While I know that most of this pressure is internalized by my own ambitions, I have noticed my male peers acknowledge me with greater respect when I score well on an exam or answer a question correctly in class. But that acknowledgment shouldn’t come with a test score, it should come by default. And sometimes I feel absurd for even thinking that this could come from misogyny because I have never experienced any explicit moments of disrespect. It doesn’t even seem serious enough to me to the point of confrontation because I know that in my small math class, we are all close-knit and would never intentionally disrespect each other. And that lack of awareness or mal-intention encapsulates implicit bias.

I remember researching a women’s investing program and making the horrible mistake of going on Reddit to look for feedback. There was one user that commented how he was confused why there wasn’t a similar program available for men because they struggle just as much in the field. He claimed all these programs for women were putting men at an unfair disadvantage because companies are now trying to hire more women. He had valid points. We all struggle with the curriculum regardless of our gender and workplaces are trying to even out their gender ratio. But my interpretation of his comment was his dissatisfaction of a changing system that no longer completely accommodated him. Women are being encouraged to step foot in these primarily male roles by offering them a safe space to learn without that one boy in class who treats you like a porcelain doll. Growing up, my mother enrolled me in numerous, similar programs to encourage me and embrace my passion instead of being led away by fear. Finding that enjoyment surrounded with other girls prior to being placed in a classroom full of men is what aided me in continuing to study math. 

The reason I bring this up is because while this might seem like an issue that will pass because college boys are still growing up and maturing, the instances of implicit bias in the professional world are even more prominent. I know many women with PhDs introduce themselves with the prefix, “Dr” while men in the same field can just go by their first names. It’s not a way to brag, but to establish that preliminary level of respect. And I have also seen a few occasions where women had the courage to speak up and point out the gender inequity to which they were primarily received with positive responses and a commitment towards greater awareness. But having that type of bravery is daunting and it has pushed many girls out of pursuing the STEM field. So to my fellow Women in STEM, know that you are capable and qualified.

Theresa Liu

U Mich '24

Sophomore at the University of Michigan studying Financial Mathematics
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