This week I thought I would discuss another field that is facing a serious gender gap. The STEM field, particularly engineering and the computer industry sectors. Being a STEM major at a large university like Penn State, it’s hard to believe that males dominate this field, considering most of my classes are split evenly. In a lot of my classes, I even feel like women dominate. However, after doing research for this blog post, I sadly realized that the gap is deep-rooted and very extensive. Similar to the wage gap, there are many reasons for the gender difference, and many conflicting views about the extent of the problem are circulating. However, just like the wage gap, there is no denying that the discrimination is real or prevalent, and my hope is that if we not only come to accept it, but also push to fix it, only then will a visible decrease in the gap occur.

The Gender Gap in STEM in Canada, a country with a similar issue of gender discrimination. As shown in the figure, the percentage of women in STEM fields markedly declines as the amount of schooling increases. Understanding why there is such a strong gap between the two genders is important and is believed to be the result of many factors.

Science and Engineering has a long, ugly history of women researchers being treated inferior to men. Perhaps the most infuriating example is the often untold story of who truly discovered the structure of DNA. Currently, male scientists James Watson and Francis Crick receive all the credit for the monumental realization of the intricate structure of DNA. However, as the truth has come out, it is becoming clear that Watson and Crick certainly did not deserve to receive all the credit for the revelation. Rosalind Franklin, a young, bright British scientist at the time, was in fact the person who did a large portion of the grunt work of the data collection and analysis. Watson and Crick were the ones to publish first, but they were only able to publish after viewing an X-ray image of DNA taken by Franklin. Even worse, Franklin did not even know that they had taken her X-ray images; her boss at the time, Maurice Wilkins, had provided it to Watson and Crick. In the end, the two scientists were able to get the paper to Nature, a highly prestigious scientific journal, before Franklin, and thus Franklin was left in the dark. She eventually switched labs and began working on a completely different research project, only to die a few years later from ovarian cancer. Four years after her death, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received a Nobel Prize in 1962 for the discovery. While we will never know if Franklin would have also been awarded the Novel prize, many speculate she would not have, considering the 1960s was still a time when women pursuing higher education were greatly looked down upon. Rosalind Franklin was certainly not the only scientist who was stripped of her earned recognition simply due to her gender, but her story of blatant sexism exemplifies how problematic gender discrimination was. As her story becomes more public and known, hopefully other stories of female researchers who experienced what Franklin went through will be discussed.

On the left, British scientist Rosalind Franklin. On the right, an image of Franklin’s x-ray photograph of DNA. It was this image of DNA that allowed Watson and Crick to even make their discovery, yet Franklin is rarely given the credit she deserves.

Today, times have thankfully changed, and most women receive the majority of the honor that they deserve. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of discrimination and underlying gender barriers that plague the field of science. In engineering, four times as many men will major in an engineering or computer science field and twice as many men will go onto graduate school compared to women. In the constantly expanding field of computer science, only 19% of software developers are female. Even more frightening, the percentage of women in computer science has actually gone down since 1991. So why are women lagging behind in engineering and computer science, considering college campuses are often an even split of men and women?
A large part of it has to do with the stigma of what the average engineer/scientist looks and thinks like. I hate to admit it, but when I hear the word physicist I do not think of a woman. Rather, I visualize a nerdy man with glasses scribbling on a piece of paper, and if I hear a woman say she is a physicist, I’m automatically surprised. Unfortunately, I have a feeling I’m not the only one who imagines or experiences this.
The stereotype that men are much better at math and numbers and that men are smarter than women is suspected to play a big role. Major initiatives are being made to encourage young girls and women to enter fields like engineering and math, and the assumption that men are smarter is being less enforced. But because the gender roles have been integrated into society for so long, it is going to take a while before the numbers even out. When Harvard business researchers surveyed a group of women scientists, their responses to how gender biases affect them were disappointing. Most of the surveyors said they felt the constant need to have to prove themselves. While a male scientist may immediately earn respect for his findings, a lot of female researchers feel they have to go above and beyond in presenting their discovery/ work in order to gain recognition. Furthermore, because engineering and intense science fields are also deemed as masculine, a lot of women feel they struggle to find the balance between being too masculine or feminine. Being too “feminine” is often associated with being overemotional or unable to handle stress, yet being too “masculine” is deemed unlikable or off-putting. Some women are told to be more complacent or easy- going and are easily called names, by both men and women, if they speak their mind. Not surprisingly, the feeling of being discriminated against or feeling inferior is affected by race, with black and Latina women feeling more pressure and discrimination than Asian and white women.

Percentages of women that feel they are affected by common types of biases. The percentage of women affected by these biases is hopefully going down, but evidently it is still very much present. From the graph, it is also clear that there are differences based on race.

Obviously this situation isn’t the case for every woman scientist or engineer and not every male scientist is sexist. However, accepting that it does exist is an important step. Also, a lot of the problem within women entering STEM is because of women themselves. Due to the competitive environment, many female scientists feel they cannot be supportive to other women and adopt a more “survival of the fittest” ideology, only perpetuating the stereotype that independent women are ruthless. Furthermore, nothing is going to change unless women have more confidence in themselves and are willing to talk about their strengths or discoveries. If they want men to respect them, they must also respect themselves and change their own internal problems with being in the field.
Changing the STEM field will be difficult and hard work, but with cooperation from both sides, I do believe it can actually change for the better.

Source 1
Source 2
Source 3