Setting the Standard

By Molly DePasquale, Intern

Why are there so few women and girls interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, usually referred to as STEM?

In an article from The New York Times entitled “Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley,” Claire Cain Miller argues that the attitude among young women about the STEM subjects of education is prevalent. Miller asserts that according to the College Board, “Just 1 percent of girls taking the SAT in 2009 said they wanted to major in computer or information sciences, whereas 5 percent of boys were interested in majoring in these subjects. In addition, Miller continues, according to The National Center for Women and Information Technology, only 18 percent of college students graduating with computer science degrees in 2008 were women, down from 37 percent in 1985. Does this come as a surprise?

In my opinion, this is very surprising. Although the STEM subjects have historically been associated with men, the ever increasing presence of technology in our society would seem like a good reason for many women to join in on the fun. Miller suggests that according to a recent report by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Computer Science Teachers Association, women and girls seem to turn away from the math and science subjects in early years because of lack of encouragement, role models, interest and exposure. In addition, many women in the field express their concern with a serious image problem in the perceptions of their work and those associated with it.

This concern about an image problem and the stereotypical perceptions associated with women in the STEM field has been an ongoing struggle. Miller mentions Maria A. Kazandjieva, a doctoral candidate and co-president of a group called Women in Computer Science at Stanford University. Kazandjieva expresses a goal of her club and a desire to increase women’s participation, “It helps to show a human being who does computer science and says, ‘I also really like going to the theater or listening to music,’ so younger women can see you still have a personality and do technology.”

Increased participation and motivation from women already engaged in the STEM fields is an important aspect of getting more women and girls interested and enthusiastic about a historically associated masculine domain. As more women join this domain, men and women can work as a team and create better innovation, productivity and profit.

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