I’m a STEM major. Specifically, I’m studying computer science, a field that till this day is male-dominated. According to College USA Today, the percentage of women in the field has been declining since the 1980s. I was very shocked just from reading that line. I would have thought that in this day and age, as we’re becoming more technologically advanced and there are newer waves of feminism, this would have changed.
Unfortunately, I can observe these statistics just from observing my peers at school, in addition to my internship this past summer. Here are my specific experiences:
Last summer, I was a systems engineer intern at Lockheed Martin. My job involved revising and testing computer programs to check for errors. I was put into a team of employees who were all men. I remember that during most of the days at my job, I did not speak with or see other women. While there were other female interns and employees I was able to meet with at the intern events and socials, my day-to-day work life consisted of working with the same group of men. Luckily, I wasn’t treated differently due to my gender, although it’s a little hard to tell since I was also the only intern on my team. I remember that during the conference calls, my coworker would say “gentlemen and lady” just to address my existence. Overall, my experience at the internship was good, but it would have been nice to see more women in my work environment.
Currently, I am taking the required class for all engineers at UF called Professional Communication for Engineers, for which I am taking the online version. In this class, my instructor randomly split us up into small working groups, consisting of about five people. After the first discussion post assignment, where all my group members and I had to introduce ourselves, I realized they were all male. Again, I was brought back to the same feeling I had at my internship of not having another female around me and feeling alone. In addition to my engineering communications class, I was also in an all-male group for the first group project in Computational Linear Algebra, which was randomly selected by my professor. I really hope that for the next group project, there will be at least one girl in my group if not more.
Why we need more women in STEM
Just based on my experience, in addition to the statistics, I see the need for more women in STEM. The number of women in many fields of STEM, not just computer science, is small. A vicious cycle exists where a female is a minority either in her college classes or at the workplace, feels intimidated and then leaves the field or job, while males continue to dominate. In addition, a 2015 study by McKinsey & Company showed the importance of diversity in business, both in gender and ethnicity. Companies that were more diverse tended to outperform those with less diversity as reported in College USA Today.
What’s happening to help
Luckily, many organizations are helping to combat this issue. Girls Who Code is an organization with programs for middle- and high-school girls. After completing this program, a high percentage of girls say they intend to study computer science according to College USA Today. Another organization called The Association for Women in Science helps women make their dreams in a STEM career a reality. AWIS helps women overcome barriers through change and increased awareness according to College Raptor. With organizations such as these, I do believe the number of women pursuing STEM careers will increase, but it will not happen overnight.
By making girls fascinated in STEM at an early age and continuing to foster their understanding of the subject matter for the rest of their school years so that they don’t lose interest or think the material is too hard, it will be possible for them to continue this interest throughout their college years and career. Also, providing resources and a support for women during college and beyond will help them not feel intimidated and have a support system.
To the women out there who are feeling alone in your chosen field, remember that you are not alone and things will get better.