As demands for advances in the fields of engineering and science grow, so does women’s interest in joining those fields. Gender roles don’t have as much of an impact in modern day classrooms as they used to. The amount of men in fields traditionally dominated by women, like nursing, has jumped in recent years. Though women are still the minority in fields traditionally dominated by men, like science and engineering, they are on their way to taking the reins.
According to the National Science Foundation, the amount of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, has grown significantly since the 1970’s. Just under 78,000 women were enrolled as graduate students in science and engineering in 1977. Compared with nearly 232,000 in 2008, it’s obvious that women are finding a place for themselves on those career paths.
Still, men overwhelmingly dominate the fields. In a press release from the Association for Women in Science, Executive Director Janet Bandows Koster says, “Our nation must acknowledge that while women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, they continue to be underrepresented in STEM professions, particularly in the higher academic faculty ranks and leadership positions.”
So what is preventing women from fully taking the field by storm? It could be a lack of equality in the workplace.
“In order to alleviate this problem, action must be taken at the federal and institutional level to alleviate the challenges impeding women’s access to these positions, including gender biases in the workplace and outmoded institutional practices,” says Koster.
It could also be the fact that young girls have traditionally been taught that math and science are for boys, while they should focus more on literature and writing.
Organizations like AWIS and the Society of Women Engineers work to promote the educational advancement of girls and women in those fields, and they’re making their mark. Carol Greider, an AWIS member, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. In other words, she’s one smart lady who is shining star in the world of science, but she is also a rarity. That’s why organizations like AWIS regularly appeal the Congress in an effort to breakdown barriers that women in STEM professions face in the workplace.
Many women in STEM professions say more women need to pursue careers in the fields. History is probably a good indicator that it’s just a matter of time. After all, it wasn’t long ago that you wouldn’t see a woman’s name on a ballot for a major election, or as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It might not be long before they become front and center in the world of math and science, too.