Every day someone somewhere seems to be talking about how we can get more women in STEM.
Do we want every single person on earth to be a professional mathematician or scientist? I personally, have a private study of technology and coding, and do believe that ideally everyone would learn to code, just like everyone should be able to read. However, I think that the constant clamoring around getting women in STEM fields is harmful.
- Not everyone, man or woman, wants to go into a STEM field, and isn’t that just as well? I think the emphasis to do so reveals a devaluation of the fields women have been involved with in the past, education, arts, and whatnot.
- By continually dinning our ears with this message, don’t we bring the stereotype more firmly into the minds of people?
Career recommendations should be based on the natural skills of the individual. Have you ever spoken to folks in STEM? As a literary person, I have found them overall to be fascinating, but creatures unlike myself. I am at heart, an artist. I problem solve and code because these are important tools, but my mind is more about expression than calculation or mechanization.
I grew up almost feeling guilty about the fact I’m not a natural engineer or mathematician. I went to a magnet school for science and engineering; yes, I heard the message loud and clear- STEM is the way to go. You know what other messages I heard? When I did things that were creative, my peers and teachers liked it sure. In contrast when I did things in math or engineering, an overwhelming message of, well now you’re cool, this is what you should be doing, and what I considered the worst: this makes you better or cooler than other women. Lastly, that as a woman, I could expect easier hire in STEM versus creative fields because of affirmative action.
No one seems to really know why it is there are less women in STEM than men, though we all have our various theories. I don’t really want to get into them, though I will say we do know that telling someone about a stereotype before they take an assessment reduces their performance. What I do want to say is that is there are only two things I think you should do if you are worried about it:
- Learn better how to identify young STEM folks. Now, you’ll need to make sure this identification is not biased towards males. Maybe some studies of sex differences of those already in STEM could help make sure this identification does not exclude females. But learn how to identify them and target those people regardless of their gender.
- Do not devalue non-STEM fields and perhaps encourage men to go into them. If you’ve done point 1, you will find yourself more able to do this accurately. Maybe more men will go into non-STEM fields if they aren’t seen as some sort of second tier profession. Contrary to popular thought, we do not have a lack of STEM people.
What people should be worried about is pushing children towards what they want to do. More females are probably going to enter STEM as technology takes over more and more of our lives. However, some will still opt to use the products of STEM to do other things. These women should not be seen as failed converts, just like men who don’t go into STEM are not.
Everyone’s experience is different. I am a highly conscientious and sensitive person, so maybe I am the only one who feels like people were trying to coerce me into STEM and felt a damage to my self esteem when I struggled with Calculus II but excelled in English Composition, despite what was a sincere desire on my part. Which, by the way, is not because I’m a woman. It is because I had a haphazard attention span that favored reading and resisted computation.
If you can do and enjoy your Calculus II homework, I figure you are on your way to STEM. I wanted to be good at it, because everyone told me it would make me cool and rich; but I just did not put in the effort. Now that I know more about the rewards of engineering and have actual projects I work on, I find it easier to focus and “do my homework”. I sometimes think that the reason more men are in STEM are because more men are diagnosed with ADHD as children and get prescriptions for Adderall. That’s a bit of a crackpot theory isn’t it.
I do believe that people should be encouraged into STEM because it is empowering. I just think targeting women about it is misguided. Let me know what you think.