Gender Gap in STEM Related Fields

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In America, STEM-related fields are among the driving force of the state as they contribute to the invention and innovation of technology that is the backbone to the daily operation of the life of any citizen. STEM is an abbreviation for science, technology, engineering, and math. With the importance of the STEM fields, it is important for equal involvement of all genders. However, a great debate on a gender gap in the STEM-related fields has developed. The gaps in gender can range from the opportunity to status in the STEM fields. This creates a debate that women have fewer opportunities and earn less due to the gender gap while other people view that there is no gender gap and that men work for more hours and engage in high-pressure advancements resulting to their success in the STEMs fields. There is a gender gap in the STEM fields where men are indeed more than women and there are a lot of factors that contribute to it other than the lack of opportunity and status. This is because women who are pursuing STEM field courses are more than men and this number has increased since the 1990s, however, women lose interest in pursuing advanced courses, careers, and majors at a higher rate than men. This is not only observed in studies but also in workplaces. Also, there are different fields in STEM where women thrive more than men and vice versa. For example, in health care sciences, women have a greater number than men whereas, in engineering, physical sciences and mathematics men have a greater number than women. This has resulted in professionals and researchers to determine why there is gender gaps in STEM-related fields and different theories to explain it has come up.

Literature Review

To elaborate on the gender gap in STEM fields, the theories will be discussed to create a depth understanding. The theories have been traced from the social categories in the United States of America, and male dominance and female submissiveness in other countries. They include gendered socialization, peer groups, and stereotypes of STEM professionals (Reinking and Martin 149).

Gendered Socialization

There are differences between boys and girls that have been established as a result of social preconception through creation of gender roles. Gender roles are defined as that which is accepted and encouraged to a person such as their character, behavior, and attitude based on the sexual orientation (Reinking and Martin 149). This makes up the male and female gender roles attributed to boys and girls respectively. According to Dasgupta and Stout (2014) this gender roles have resulted in the loss of women in the STEM pipeline before reaching the professional level leading to loss of scientists and engineers as they have been subjected to stereotype ideas by the society which is negative on their ability to do mathematics. This influence begins from their young age for example, by their parents and teachers, and impacts their belief and motivation toward pursuing STEM-related fields.

Peer Groups

The relationships that people have among their peers affect the focus on pursuing and engaging in STEM-related fields, especially during adolescent years (Reinking and Martin 149). In the book peer group context of girls’ and boys’ academic experience by Crosnoe, Riegle-Crumb, Field, Frank, and Muller (2008), it is stated that there was an association between math course and friendship achievement and extends lesser to course partners. This is because the associations got stronger towards high school completion and fragile for those teenagers with a previous failure record while in girls it was more consistent. Peers can greatly influence the development of a person at a young age since there is a need for a sense of belonging and peer feedback to an adolescent is important. This can be positive and negative where a student, for example, in middle school can be motivated or demotivated to perform in their academics. Therefore, where girls don’t engage in STEM units it can be attributed to the destructive responses that they get from their age mates. This was confirmed by Leaper, Frank, and Bloom (2011) in their research that showed the motivation to participate in math and science courses in girls was influenced by adolescent peer support.

Stereotypes of STEM Professionals

Despite having a great influence from peer groups and socialization, STEM careers also have a significant contribution to the gender gap. Research conducted revealed that some careers have a requirement on the person for the jobs and the standards for the field which have resulted in discouraging women from pursuing them. This is because the STEM fields, in particular computer science professional among others have a male-oriented approach which is directly supported by the gender socialization theory that discriminates on gender roles where there is no value for the learned women gender by society as they are associated with being pleasers and interactors. This can be traced back historically where female brilliance was not appreciated compared to male. Also, the media contributes to professional stereotype where they associate the male with STEM-related fields, for example, in advertising where male pictures are used whereas females are used to advertising other fields. This influences the career opinion of girls, especially in their adolescent stage.

Methodology

The research method used was a mixed research method. This included qualitative and quantitative methods in order to gain significant information and results. Primary sources included interviews where students from high schools and colleges were involved in giving feedback on the topic. Reports from various companies were included to give an overview interpretation of the margin gap in them such as the Mckinsey & Company which is a high tech company. Secondary sources included online sources such as the peer-reviewed scholarly journals which have great information on the theories around the gender gap in the STEM-related fields.

Results

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The results proved that there was a significant gender gap, especially in the professional field. A report by Mark J. Perry illustrates that women have the highest percentage in the number of graduates enrolled in STEM fields by gender making up 50.6%. However, there were many males enrolled in specific fields than females and vice versa. In Engineering, mathematics and computer sciences and physical and earth sciences, male numbers were greater than female as confirmed by the Mckinsey & Company report whereas in biological and agricultural sciences and health and medical sciences the females were greater in number than males. Also, a report by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics shows that from 2004 to 2014, more women received bachelor’s degrees in engineering and science field than men. From the interviews, many women responded that they couldn’t pursue STEM-related courses based on the notion that they weren’t good in math or they were afraid of pursuing hard courses which were easier for the men and the men also agreed.

Discussion

From the results above, it is clear that there is a gender gap in STEM-related fields in America and women aren’t given the opportunity or the status as they are influenced at a young age by the society, their peers and the career fields which don’t accommodate them. There have been a number of incidences where women were discriminated in STEM-related fields for having a lack of belief in them. Tara Glasgow is an example of those people as she narrates how she used her last name while in the university to escape the discrimination where during one of her exams where she had the highest score but when the professor called her by her last name, he was surprised to see her and even took back the paper to confirm the 100% score (Dishman 2015). Even though there has been an increased entry of female graduates who enrolled in the STEM fields, the same is not reflected in the professional fields and careers. The society has greatly influenced this which is subjected to coming generations in their young age, then it is further supported by the peer groups where a majority of them, as earlier stated that with girls it is more consistent, don’t support STEM fields based on negative feedback. This creates a loop cycle that reaps the same results. However, there are solutions which when implemented will help to break away the cycle and reduce the gender gap in the United States of America. These solutions range from the society to professional framework and they include engaging girls in STEM fields, teachers’ influence, and philanthropic and corporate social responsibility (CSR) investments.

Engaging Girls In STEM Fields

This focuses on influencing the girls into participating in STEM fields and breaking away from the stereotype thoughts of the society. This solution will ensure that girls are given a platform to explore and learn more of the STEM fields and their impact to the society through STEM movements where women who are in the fields engage in discussion and motivation with girls on mathematics, science, and engineering and this also can be used as an education strategy. This will greatly increase the enthusiasm of the girls to explore, ask questions and gain skills in the fields. An example is a website called Engineer Girl which focus on engineering, what it involves and the great women throughout history who have been engineers (Reinking and Martin 149).

Teacher’s Influence

Teachers spend a lot of time with children from grade school to the university and it is important that they motivate and influence genders to pursue STEM fields. This can be achieved when teachers expose them to STEM topics, experience, and role models, in this case, female STEM role models, and creating a safe environment for exploration while combating society’s stereotypes as illustrated by Debbie’s story of how she was motivated to pursue stem by her high school teacher (Reinking and Martin 152). Also, the number of female faculty, especially in STEM institutions should be increased as this acts as a motivation for the female students and increases the number of opportunity in STEM fields for women, for example, in Michigan State University (MSU) women make up 50% of those hired (Dishman 2015).

Philanthropic and CSR Investments

The realization that women experience roadblocks in their pursuance of the STEM careers will go a long way in coming up with support strategies and programs that will enable them to overcome the challenges. This will focus not only those in the profession but the young people aspiring to join it. Such investments can include; offering beginner on-ramps, creating a sense of belonging, cultivating a supportive peer’s community, ensuring encouragement by gatekeepers (family, teachers, and counselors), and fostering interest in STEM careers (Conway, Ellingrud, Nowski and Wittemyer 2018).

Conclusion

The gender gap is a problem in America’s STEM fields which needs to be resolved. The women are most affected and this has been proved and supported by theories such as the gendered socialization, and peer groups among others. The evidence of the gender gap in STEM-related fields is grounded mostly by the stereotypes ideas and thoughts of the society. However, such ideas and ideas can be resolved through solutions that will ensure that the young aspiring and already established women will be motivated to pursue STEM fields and close the gender gap. Such solutions include engaging the girls in STEM fields, teachers influencing them through being role models and philanthropic and CSR investments towards ensuring that women are established in overcoming the challenges.

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