Gender Identity Threat for Women in the STEM-Heavy Professions

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Women have traditionally been looked at as though they were less than men. They were not allowed to go to school, and when they could go to school, they were told that they were there to support men not themselves. From an early age woman were taught that they had a role of being a house wife. They would cook, clean, and service their husband and that would be their duty as a woman. Young men were raised to provide for the family. They would work the farm and go to school to get an education. The woman role was just as important as the mans but was not seen as such through the eyes of a man. Then came Title IX this law stated that everyone no matter gender, race, or religion should receive the same education. While this law was a very important feat for minorities still today there are large gaps in education, one is the lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. STEM is defined as an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in concepts that apply both in school and in real-world communities. STEM careers are very well-known careers that significantly lack women throughout high school, college, and the work environment. This can be detrimental to society because women bring many qualities to an organization that men may not be as naturally gifted to bring to the work environment.

Many high school students today go into high school thinking that they can do anything within the next four years to get to a college or four-year university. Many of the prestigious students that get to go into these four-year universities are women, but many of the people who leave college with the highest of STEM degrees is men. This trend begins well before these young women submit their college applications. A popular metaphor for this unfortunate tread is called the “leaky pipeline”. The “leaky pipeline”, is the “prevailing view of the STEM career progression is that young children initially have a high level of interest in science and mathematics, but that, as they move through the educational system, interest is lost at every stage, particularly among females” (Sadler, 2). Although students may not get to have much of a choice of the classes they get to take before high school. Research has showed that the educational and interest levels in certain activities may begin the early process of the gender gap in the work place. What many females experience in school is that English and Social Studies types of classes are traditionally easier for women, while Math and Science types of classes are easier for boys because of the way each gender is “wired”. This is called gender socialization. Gender socialization is when society makes up stereotypes of women and men and raises children to fit this stereotype even though it is not the role that every child or person is meant to fit into. This also brings up the theory of gender roles and how traditionally women are the care givers and men are the bread winners. While, many today do not believe this to be true, but because society has thought this for so long it will take many generations for the genderization to be a factor that is involved in the lack of women in STEM. As research has showed if a teacher is to tell a group of students, they will not do good on a test because of their race, gender, or color, they are going to do poorly. While a teacher who encourages their students no matter who they are and tells their students they will do good on the test will have higher scores than the later. This phenomenon can cause a skew of men in these STEM classes as early as elementary school due to the lack of encouragement that women traditionally get when taking STEM related classes. While this experience does happen before women go to college many times women did not truly see this until picking a college major. However, although there is still major gap in women in STEMM pathways throughout their educational career there is hope that this is shrinking, it still remains today that there is still no research that accurately predicts when the gender gap in STEM careers will close.

Gender gaps begin in late adolescence based off how children are raised. This results in gendered work preferences. Gender work preferences lead many women into more caring careers such as nursing and teaching, while men tend to go towards careers of a higher degree. We have created a society in which our young girls feel that they must be a “certain” type of person to be able to study these STEMM careers. There are also “lots of advisors that will steer girls and people of color one way and white boys another way” (Shein 20). This feeling for young girls and women can last a lifetime and can easily be why women have a lack of exposure to these careers. Today research shows that there are more women than men that are enrolling into college, but with this said there remains a large gender gap in STEM careers. According to Casey A. Shapiro and Linda J. Sax there are “only 24 percent of students entering college report an interest in majoring in STEM. Moreover, we can expect about half of these students to earn a STEM degree, as research has shown that 50 percent or more of the students who enter college with STEM career aspirations either switch to a non-STEM field or leave postsecondary education altogether” (5). While STEM careers may be having trouble maintaining retention rates among all students the retention rates among females is even more detrimental to the STEM fields. According to Casey A. Shapiro and Linda J. Sax, “In 2005, women constituted 47 percent of the college-educated U.S. labor force, but only 27 percent of the entire science and engineering workforce (National Science Board,2008)” (6). Naturally the culture of a STEM major is very competitive, the college classes are typically lecture oriented and classes are ran by professors that are describes as not as motivating as professors that are in humanities or social sciences. These qualities are not as attracting to women as they are to men, women are not as competitive as men and can have a hard time learning from people who are not motivating. Women can be very sensitive and emotionally evolved in their education, because of this women need a motivator or a supportive overseer. Having this mentorship from someone who is motivating and encouraging helps women become more confident in careers that are predominately male.

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Those who are in STEM careers are available to the largest number of high paying jobs throughout the world. Yet women remain ultimately secluded from this male dominated joy of high paying careers. This is because men are more likely than women to enroll in these STEM majors during college, which then leads to the lack of women in STEM careers. According to Ruth Van Veelen, et. al, “recent statistics demonstrate that in the Netherlands – where the current study was situated – only 24% of STEM graduates are women. And of those women, a vast majority of 71% opts for a career outside STEM” (pp. 2). These statistics are important because in the past 20 years there have been many programs to help encourage women to major in subjects that would lead them to go into a STEM career. Although, many programs have been instituted to encourage women to go into STEM careers. Many women who do go into stem careers feel discouraged by the overpowerment of men. “Specifically, we investigate how being a woman in a male dominated STEM sector may form a source of social identity threat (i.e., the feeling of being devalued or stigmatized at work on the basis of one’s gender identity; Tajfel and Turner, 1986), which may result in negative career-related outcomes such as lower work engagement and career confidence” (Veelen, pp.5).

Gender identity threat is something women often feel when judged based off of their gender rather than their work “for example, women STEM students who watched a video about an engineering conference reported lower belonging and lower desire to participate in the conference when the men in the video were overrepresented compared to when the gender composition was equal (Murphy et al., 2007)” (Veelen, pp.8). One solution that could decrease the number of women that go through gender identity threat is to have women mentored by other women. This could help women feel as though they are not alone when in a work place that is predominately men. Women mentors can also help other women with better assessing their own strengths and weaknesses in the work place, while also getting better results by identifying these weaknesses and improving them. This is because women in a predominately male work place often feel less knowledgeable than their men coworkers. According to Amy E. Dawson, et al. “Women appreciate mentors who are aware of the differential experiences of men and women in STEM fields, and who can understand their unique challenges (Bernstein, Jacobson, & Russo, 2010; Etzkowitz, Kemelgor, & Uzzi, 2000)” (3). While having women mentors is a great thing for other women in STEM careers the main challenge that arises with this is still the lack of women in STEM careers. Today there are still many work places that would not have enough women for them to be mentors to other women. While working women feel underrepresented at the beginning of their working careers in comparison to men, women in STEM who have reached the mid-point of their working careers often feel less satisfied with their jobs. This is often because men can obtain higher positions in the work place than women, this phenomenon is often called the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling refers to the unseen barrier that keeps women and other minorities from reaching positions of power, regardless of their achievements.

Most women who go into medical careers tend to be nurses or pediatricians not only because they are deemed more caring than men, but they are also told by college advisors that they might not want to become doctors because of the longer education process, it is thought that women would be able to not become doctors, this is because of their “duties” as a woman. This loss of woman participation in STEM majors “harms the entire nation, as the demand for STEMM professionals exceeds the supply. Furthermore, including the perspectives and intellectual contributions of a more diverse group of STEMM professionals can serve to advance scientific and technological progress in an age rife with environmental, social, and economic challenges” (Sadler, 3). With this being said, for centuries women have been looked at as though they are not as good as men. Today, women are still faced with discrimination in the work force. It is up to today’s society to be proactive against these discriminatory acts against women in the workplace and encourage young women to not be afraid to make a change in society.

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