This blog was written by a guest author.
Amanda Peterson, Enlightened Digital
Over the past several years, it has become evident that the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related careers is something which needs to be addressed. Though women account for 39 percent of jobs globally, they only account for 28 percent of STEM positions, and even fewer in leadership roles at only 12.2 per cent.
It can be hard to pinpoint where this gap comes from, but there is no denying that it exists. It’s been speculated that it comes back to the traditional gender roles enforced on women from a young age which consists of a general push away from more scientific careers. According to an article by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the idea that women don’t belong in these careers starts showing up around the age of six and only progresses from there.
In the AAUW study, five-year-old boys and girls were asked whether or not they thought they could be smart, the children surveyed believed that anyone can be “really, really smart,” regardless of gender. The same study however, found that girls six and older believed boys are much more likely to be brilliant. Similarly, a recent gender-science study found that 70 per cent of people associated men with STEM careers and women with the arts.
When it comes to changing these statistics, it doesn’t always come easily. Both the Obama administration and the current Trump administration have recognized the need to close the gender gap and have put programs in place to help do just that.
Our current administration has launched two programs which are aimed at helping to get more women involved in STEM positions – the Inspire Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act.
The Inspire Act is directed specifically toward NASA and letting young girls know that they are smart and capable enough to grow up to have careers in the STEM field. This act specifically directs NASA to connect these young girls with female STEM professionals like their astronauts and engineers. Through this act, we are able to reach girls at the age when their confidence in achieving a career in a scientific field is faltering. Having female role models to look up to is a vital component of getting young girls to pursue careers in the STEM field and close this gender gap.
The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act works with women farther along their career paths by authorizing the National Science Foundation to recruit and assist female entrepreneurs in the STEM fields. When congress found that only 26 percent of female STEM degree holders worked in in STEM careers, they addressed the issue through an amendment to the existing Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act. Now, not only are the women given the same opportunity for jobs in their degree fields, but are encouraged to extend their focus into the commercial space.
During the Obama administration, The White House Council on Women and Girls launched a campaign to urge the entertainment industry to portray more female STEM professionals. One of the most important factors in combatting this gender gap comes in the form of representation. Not only in a professional sense, as demonstrated in the previous two acts, but in cultural and entertainment representation.
Young girls put a large amount of stock in the kinds of role models they are exposed to through the entertainment industry. In making an effort to portray more women in these positions, girls are learning that not only can they pursue these STEM roles but they have females in the TV shows and movies they are watching every day. From movies like Hidden Figures and Gravity to prominent female characters in TV shows like The Fosters and Reverie, there is a search of media that is giving young girls positive influences that show them it’s okay and it’s possible to pursue a STEM career.