Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, there has always been an imbalance within the sciences between men and women. Women were not allowed to attend universities until the second half of the nineteenth century, were not generally accepted into research positions until the twentieth century, and even in the twenty-first century only around 24% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs in the USA are filled by women. In today’s age of supposed equality, why is that?
Many people have argued that it is because STEM is a “Boys’ Club,” an area in which women experience great discrimination. This may have a grain of truth to it, as recent sociological studies have shown that there is a subtle, implicit prejudice against accepting women into the field. It seems that, as a society, we unconsciously think that men are better suited for positions in the sciences. Even where science is impartial, society manages to find ways not to be.
However, a major part of the problem also seems to be the general lack of incentive (by the media, by parents and educators, by society) to break these stereotypes. There simply hasn’t been enough momentum in getting women into STEM positions. The media depicted women pursuing men, not pursuing careers in the sciences. And though women were encouraged to teach, they were generally portrayed as English teachers, not mathematicians.
But recently, in the last decade especially, things have been getting better. There have been several initiatives specifically created to reward institutions focused on breaking society’s stereotype’s and getting women involved in STEM degrees: the UK’s “Athena SWAN Awards” have gained huge accreditation since their inception in 2005, the global campaign of STEMconnector’s “100 Women Leaders in STEM” is currently attempting to recruit one million extra women to STEM careers, and the Huffington Post’s “Girls in STEM” initiative looks to capture the imagination of American girls from a younger age. These programs represent the trend towards changing the face of academia forever.
And they are not alone. In today’s media driven age, new sources are enticing more people than ever into STEM subjects. From popular science-based television shows, such as The Big Bang Theory or Breaking Bad, through popular science authors and broadcasters such as Steve Jones or Neil deGrasse Tyson, to social media pages like the one you’re reading right now, more people are experiencing the wonders of science than ever before. If you do a google search for “female scientists” the top results are from National Geographic, How it Works, and other sites detailing the most notable women in scientific history (then do a search for “male scientists;” the results may surprise you).
Today, there is a true drive to acknowledge the contribution that women have made to the sciences. We need to keep pushing this trend. However, we must not leave any child behind. We have to ensure that *every* child—Every. Single. Child–grows up knowing that they can do absolutely anything that they want to. And to do that, we must abandon old stereotypes and ensure that every child has access to an adequate education.
Want to know what you can do to help? Check out great organizations like Teach for America