Sy-STEM-atic sexism

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Charalampos Tsevis / Used with permission

“To the girls who are unsure about pursuing STEM: just do it! Have you ever asked the people who discourage you ‘Why can’t I?’ They don’t know how much you are capable of achieving in STEM.” – Jennifer Xiao

What do you see when you hear “computer programmer” or “math genius?” A socially awkward kid who spends time practicing calculus? Perhaps. But notice that the kid is probably male.

With the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field growing rapidly, the gender gap within STEM still remains .

“The ideal situation would be that both men and women seek their passion with any field,” Ankush Patel (12) said. “Cultural/societal barriers discourage men and women to take on particular jobs. Men and women often have to decide whether they want to defy these norms, which can be difficult for most.”

There are many ideas behind why there is a such a gender gap in STEM, from the expectations of women’s child-rearing responsibilities to the stereotype that women are more suited for Liberal Art subjects.

“I believe that media is partly one of the main culprits,” Jennifer Xiao (12) said, “However, for the most part, the gender divide in STEM is due to our attachment to the status quo. If most of your female friends don’t pursue STEM-related activities, you probably don’t either. It’s like a domino effect.”

Women who break into the top ranks often realize that they not only have to be intelligent and capable scientists but also good leaders. Retaining the respect of subordinates is, arguably, harder for women. A woman who leads the same way a man does is seen as aggressive, bossy and pushy rather than assertive and wise. Many women have to alter their leadership strategies to get work done.

With all these obstacles, how can we move past this fragile ego to bridge the divide in STEM?

Encourage younger girls to pursue STEM. Encourage them to defy the norms and pursue their interests.

“If you look at the math team roster, there seems to be a roughly equal amount of girls and boys,” Xiao said. “But then, when you see who actively participates in the competitions, you get a whole different picture. I seek to model strength and confidence in my leadership to show other girls that they don’t have to adhere to the gender bias.”

Xiao has started a local math competition called Math Invitation for Girls.

“The goal of my contest is to allow girls to realize their potential in math at a young age and pique their passion in STEM,” Xiao said. “Even if I just sparked one girl’s interest in STEM, I would be happy that I’ve possibly changed the course of someone’s life. I’m confident that we will make gender equality in STEM more foreseeable in the future.”

Fortunately, more companies, such as Google, are encouraging women to join and bridging the gender gap. This will become more common in the future because, fortunately, there is a growing acceptance that women can excel in STEM.

“As more women get into STEM, the companies will need to accept the women,” Laine Agee, a computer science teacher, said. “The women are going to have to demand it.”

-Tanya Tandon

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