Updated: Jan 27, 2022
We all know that a gender gap exists in STEM fields and most of us understand that this has to do with the lack of STEM education catered towards girls. But rarely do we dive deeper and find the root cause of this issue. What is preventing more girls from receiving the education they need to enter these fields? The answer lies in the “masculine” culture of STEM fields.
If you ask girls and boys to describe a computer scientist or an engineer, their answers will probably sound the same. They’re geeky, socially awkward, and of course, male. From a young age, boys are encouraged to participate in math and science activities, while girls are generally left out. Eventually, this leads to higher levels of confidence among men pursuing STEM careers while negatively impacting the confidence levels of women with the same goal.
[Photo credit: AAUW]
This doesn’t mean that girls cannot enter STEM fields. A recent study done by Joseph Cimpian and NYU researchers found that both men and women who have high achievements in STEM classes tend to enter math or science fields later on. However, while low-achieving men are still encouraged to enter STEM fields, only women who are top scorers in math and science continue to pursue careers in STEM. Thus, while men are greatly encouraged to enter STEM fields no matter their grades, only high-achieving women, who have demonstrated exemplary skills, receive the same support. This indicates that gender disparities in STEM fields are greatly influenced by the difference in attention that girls and boys receive.
Since men are recognized to be suited for math and science careers, STEM fields eventually become male-dominated and inherently masculine. Due to this, STEM fields primarily cater towards men, causing these fields to become inflexible and exclusionary for women. Furthermore, this masculine environment causes doubts about a woman's abilities and intelligence, forcing women in STEM fields to work twice as hard as men for their work to be recognized. Despite many voices addressing gender disparities in the past, women are still significantly underrepresented in STEM majors. Even today, women represent a mere 21 percent of engineering majors and 19% of computer and information science majors.
[Photo credit: Pew Research]
Ultimately, the lack of attention towards girls causes them to lack the confidence and opportunity to enter STEM fields, eventually causing these fields to become male-dominated and inherently “masculine.” To combat gender disparities in STEM fields, educators must not only pay attention to high-performing girls but also encourage average and lower-achieving girls to pursue math and science careers. By encouraging more girls to pursue STEM-related careers, the masculine culture of STEM fields will be replaced by a culture of hard work and excellence among women and men.
Funk, Cary, and Kim Parker. “Women in STEM See More Gender Disparities at Work, Especially Those in Computer Jobs, Majority-Male Workplaces.” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 31 Dec. 2019, www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/01/09/women-in-stem-see-more-gender-disparities-at-work-especially-those-in-computer-jobs-majority-male-workplaces/.
Gallucci, Maria. “'Masculine Culture' of STEM Fields Is Partly to Blame for Gender Gap: Study.” Mashable, Mashable, 15 Oct. 2016, https://mashable.com/2016/10/15/stem-gender-gap-masculine-culture/.
“Girls and Women's Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).” UNESCO, 14 Jan. 2020, https://en.unesco.org/stemed.
Sparks, Sarah D. “Low-Achieving Boys Opt for STEM Careers More Than Most Girls Do.” Education Week, Education Week, 26 June 2020, www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/low-achieving-boys-opt-for-stem-careers-more-than-most-girls-do/2020/06.
“The STEM Gap: Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – AAUW: Empowering Women Since 1881.” AAUW, 5 Oct. 2020, www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/.