Why encourage women to enter STEM fields? It’s a critical question, with an answer that’s closely tied with why STEM matters in the first place. To appropriately answer this question, it’s necessary to assess the reasons for the disparate representation of women entering STEM fields while also celebrating female STEM pioneers, who have defied cultural and environmental factors to plant seeds of possibility.
Lack of Representation
Where does the lack of representation for female STEM professionals come from? Forty years ago, biological gender differences were used to explain the innate understanding of mathematics, science, and cognitive abilities like spatial skills. The “findings” reported that males possessed higher abilities of understanding than their female counterparts. Today, research suggests that societal beliefs and learning environments have significantly impacted girls’ interest and performance in STEM subjects; this serves as a probable explanation for the disparity in STEM performance between girls and boys. Recent reports by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) suggest that encouraging a growth mindset and affirming the capacity for intellectual gains have the most impact on encouraging women to pursue STEM. Women can work in STEM just as well as anyone else. By rejecting implicit bias, we can promote a growth mindset and get girls excited about science and technology. First, we need to prove that success is possible for women in STEM. For that, we turn to history.
Female Trailblazers in STEM
These women were scientists, mathematicians, and technology revolutionists who persevered through life’s uniquely female challenges to become Nobel Prize winners, internet pioneers, and NASA mission coordinators:
- Katherine Johnson, an African-American physicist, space scientist, and research mathematician, worked alongside diverse colleagues on the calculations that steered NASA’s 1962 Friendship 7 Mission.
- Radia Perlman, known as The Mother of the Internet, gained recognition for establishing the STP (Spanning Tree Protocol), a vital component of today’s internet. Additionally, Perlman wrote textbooks on network security and secured over 100 patents.
- Dr. Marie Curie has been the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes. She is most well-known for developing methods to isolate radium from radioactive residues for characterization and examination of curative properties to relieve suffering.
Female scientists, technologists, and mathematicians have worked tirelessly to shatter the primitive idea that women are less adept in STEM fields. Their work will continue to inspire young girls and women, assuring that they, too, can achieve their dream STEM careers.