What are you doing here?

Author: Anusha Ghosh, Greenville Technical Charter High School ‘21

“What are you doing here?” was one of the first things I heard when I stepped into my first robotics camp. I was a girl in a sea of boys, who all stared at me like I was a goldfish amongst sharks. Experiences like this, as commonly as they occurred, eventually eroded my confidence in the STEM field as a little girl.

Although it feels like it, I am not the only girl to have ever felt this way. Gender inequality has existed in the workforce for a long time, but it is magnified in the STEM field.

According to Built By Me STEM learning, only 28% of STEM workers are female, and only 24% of women have STEM degrees. This disparity is highlighted in the fields of engineering and computer science. Just 11% of engineers are women, and less than 19% of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women. Not only that, but there are drastically fewer female leaders in STEM. Only 12.2% of board members in the information technology industry are female.

Why? Well, the causes of this gender inequality stem from the early-on experiences of the many women who are interested in STEM subjects.

Unfortunately, the Women’s Museum of California finds only 10% of girls say their parents have encouraged them to think about an engineering career. Furthermore, most of the time, female students say that their math abilities are lower than males. In fact, in a University of Washington study assessing multiple classrooms, students began to mutually agree that “math is for boys, not girls” as early as the second grade.

Moreover, because there are few examples of female scientists and engineers in books, media, and pop culture, girls lack many role models. One study by Equality of Opportunity found that if girls had as many role models as boys, the gender gap in innovation would be cut in half.

The impacts of these early-on childhood experiences carry on into college and adult life.

The Women’s Museum of California found that male students are over three times more likely to be interested in STEM majors and careers than female students. So, in college and work, the STEM field seems to be male-dominated. A study by Georgetown University found that “If female students believe that men are inherently a better fit for STEM majors, and those female students also see their numerical minority status, they are more likely to perceive their low grades as confirmation about their unfitness for their male-dominated STEM major.” Another survey by Pew Research Center found that over 50% of women in STEM have experienced gender discrimination at work, and 22% have experienced sexual harassment.

Women have made enormous strides in fields such as medicine, law, and entertainment. It is time we began progress to close the gender gap in the STEM field. We need to highlight examples of women who overcame the biases – Sally Ride, Rosalind Franklin, and Ada Lovelace, to name a few – and celebrate their accomplishments as trailblazers.

It took a long time to answer that question, “What are you doing here?” However by writing this article as a girl aspiring to become a STEM worker, I finally realized: I was there – just like every other girl in STEM - to change the world.

Works Cited:

  • “10 Facts About Women In STEM.” Women's Museum of California, womensmuseum.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/10-facts-about-women-in-stem/.

  • “7 Facts to Know about Women and STEM.” Reasoning Mind, 25 Aug. 2014, www.reasoningmind.org/blog/2014/08/25/7-facts-to-know-about-women-and-stem/.

  • Bell, Alex, et al. “Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation∗.” Equality of Opportunity, Nov. 2018, www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/inventors_paper.pdf.

  • “Complex Reasons Spur Women to Change STEM Majors, New Georgetown Study Finds.” Georgetown University, 11 Oct. 2017, www.georgetown.edu/news/complex-reasons-spur-women-to-change-stem-majors-new-georgetown-study-finds/.

  • Funk, Cary, and Kim Parker. “Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity.” Pew Social Trends, 9 Jan. 2018, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/women-and-men-in-stem-often-at-odds-over-workplace-equity/.

  • “Gender Stereotypes About Math Develop as Early as Second Grade.” Institute For Learning and Brain Science, University of Washington, 20 Mar. 2011, ilabs.washington.edu/i-labs-news/gender-stereotypes-about-math-develop-early-second-grade.

  • Platt, Spencer. “Half of Women in STEM Have Experienced Gender Discrimination at Work, Study Finds.” NBC News, 9 Jan. 2018, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/half-women-stem-have-experienced-gender-discrimination-work-study-finds-n836116.

  • Silva, Vitor. “8 Statistics and Facts about Women in STEM.” Built By Me, 20 Apr. 2019, www.builtbyme.com/statistics-facts-women-in-stem/.

  • “The STEM Gap: Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.” AAUW, www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/.

Graphic by Sarah Luan, Greenhill School '21