The Gender-Gap in STEM

What caused it?

Attalie Faint, Cactus Contributor

You may have heard the acronym STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, before. And you may also be aware of the fact that there is a shortage of women in those fields. This disparity (commonly known as the gender-gap) has been discussed for years now and, as with any debated topic, varying viewpoints on what has caused it have arisen. Though it is by no means a new topic, with all the advances currently being made in STEM fields-it deserves a fresh look.

First, there does need to be some clarification. When the gender-gap in STEM is discussed, generalizations are quite often made. Most get the impression that there is a shortage of women in all STEM fields but that’s not the case.

Data from the United States Labor Force on shows that women hold just over fifty percent of the jobs in biological science and medical science and almost fifty percent of the jobs in chemical and material science.

The fields where women are lacking are computer science, engineering, mathematics, environmental science, and geoscience. Only about twenty-five percent of the jobs in these fields are filled by women. And as they have a large impact on our over-fifty-percent-female society, the disproportionate amount of men in them has raised some concern.

There are a few main views on why this shortage has come about.

The first is that females are at a genetic disadvantage when it comes to subjects such as math and science.

This view is a bit old and is definitely as unpopular as it is unscientific.

One study conducted by the University of Missouri found that girls outscored boys in science, math, and reading in seventy percent of the countries that were analyzed.

This alone shows that girls are not inherently worse at STEM subjects than their male counterparts. Most of them just don’t choose to pursue those fields.

The second theory is that girls lack the appropriate role-models to be interested in STEM.

This may very well affect what educational choices girls make, but it doesn’t seem to have as much effect as some have thought. A study carried out by Oregon State University in 2015 found that there is an actual disconnect between who girls see as role models and who they aspire to be like when they grow up.

In this study girls and boys were shown pictures of women in appearance based professions (such as actresses and models) and non-appearance based professions (like pilots and astronauts). The children were then asked which ones they saw as role-models and which ones they wanted to be like when they grew up.

The girls saw the women in non-appearance based professions as good role-models but said they actually wanted to be like the women in appearance based professions.

Simply having girls exposed to more women in STEM professions wouldn’t necessarily make them want to pursue those fields themselves.

The third possibility is the sexualization of females in the entertainment industry.

“Sex sells” is a common marketing tactic used today. Its evidence can be seen in many movies, video games, television shows, books, songs, and magazines. And I think this industrial ideology is mainly to blame for the shortage of girls in STEM.

As a whole, the women that are promoted most in our society are those that look physically appealing.

This advances a negative stereotype that girls belong in those professions that center around their appearance. And it also teaches both genders to value women based on how they look, not what they think.

For some reason, women in math and science don’t seem as attractive as those modeling or singing or acting. And as our culture teaches its youth to value appearances above all else, girls leave those fields that need their involvement by the way side.

It seems that as long as women are sexualized in pop-culture and the media, they will be underrepresented in STEM.

Attalie Faint is an engineering student at Central Arizona College.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);