When I studied chemistry in college, I always considered myself lucky – my core friend/homework group had a mixture of genders, ethnicities, and interests. I never had the experience that I so feared in high school of being the only woman in a room full of men. After all, I’d always been told that science was a “men’s game,” and that the only way to change it was to apply myself and be a role model for those coming after me. Isn’t that a pervasive idea? That it’s our responsibility to ensure our own inclusion.
As it turns out, not enough women studying STEM topics isn’t the main problem.
Researchers Haowen Zheng and Kim Weeden recently found that 64% of gender segregation within a given field is because of “labor market factors” rather than any undergraduate degrees or qualifications (1). What this ultimately boils down to is that with the same training, men tend to enter higher-paying occupations than women do.
There are a number of proposed reasons as to why this divide happens, none of them being shocking. Women often face “the motherhood penalty,” where they discriminately earn less money than their male counterparts, may be passed up for promotions, and can even be rejected specifically because they might have children (2). Almost three quarters of women working in STEM feel that they’re valued less than their male coworkers for the same position (3). Even in getting hired for positions, women are getting valued by human and AI recruiters alike (4).
Like I said, probably none of this information is surprising. What did surprise me was the article where I found Zheng and Weeden’s paper being discussed. The Cornell Chronicle spends a little over half of their summary discussing the idea that integrating STEM fields in academia is a major take-away; while I certainly think that more women should be pursuing science or engineering if they want to, I think we should be hammering home the idea that most of the segregation comes after college (5).
So how do we ensure more equity in the scientific labor market?
First things first – you don’t have to make yourself into a paragon that represents All Women in STEM as I know is so often expected of any female scientist. Forbes reported that the number of women in STEM has jumped from 34% in 1995 to 45% in 2020 (6). Little by little, we’re gaining more access to the same resources and being allowed to explore our interests. It’s okay to just do the work you love and maybe inspire others along the way.
Secondly, Dr. Mexhid Ferati from Linnaeus University suggests that one of the best things to do is keep challenging and arguing against “social norms.” Gender biases have been shown to start as early as preschool, so let’s start there (7). Tell your daughters and sons and nieces and nephews and the kids who live across the street that anyone can be a scientist or engineer as long as they’re curious and work hard. Petition your school boards to make more inclusive curriculums.
And always know your worth, because that’s how you make other people know it, too.
- ‘Motherhood penalty’ in worse pay at work – BBC News
- Study: Women in STEM are struggling the most in the workplace – The Hill
- Entry barriers for women are amplified by AI in recruitment algorithms, study finds (phys.org)
- Integrating STEM majors won’t end gender segregation at work | Cornell Chronicle
- Women Achieve Gains In STEM Fields (forbes.com)
- Challenges and Opportunities for Women Studying STEM | SpringerLink