Gender bias still hinders women’s progress in STEM fields

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/
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A hundred years ago, women did not have the right vote. Today, women not only have the right to vote, but can also hold public office. College education is no longer something reserved for men. In 2014, the world saw the first woman win a Nobel Prize in mathematics. In 2016, the United States saw the first female candidate nominated for president by a majority political party, and the first female campaign manager led a political candidate to a presidential victory. Yet, despite this progress, women are still lagging behind in law, politics, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Only we as a society can fix this problem.

Women gaining progress in STEM has been a long fought battle and one that has not advanced by much. According to statistics provided by the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the college-educated workforce in the United States, yet only 29 percent of the STEM workforce.
The reason behind the lack of women in STEM fields isn’t that women aren’t interested — according to a Girl Scouts' research study, 74 percent of girls express interest in STEM. Yet despite this difference, women still make up less than 30 percent of those who receive computer science degrees, as shown in a study done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Something happens to these young girls before they reach college. And unfortunately, it isn’t only in STEM fields where this gender bias occurs.

Gender bias is also present in politics and law. The American Bar Association released a study that found that that only 36 percent of those in the legal profession were women. Women in Congress make up less than 20 percent of the seats in the House and Senate. Women are still subject to sexism in the legal workplace, with many often mistaken as secretaries or finding themselves subject to remarks about trivial things such as a clothing.

While women are making progress — with women making up the majority of law school students for the first time — they are still far behind in STEM fields. As far as politics are concerned, at the current rate of progress, women won't achieve fair representation for almost 500 years. It is correct to assume that women are making progress, but this progress is not happening as fast as it must.

The gender bias present in STEM, law, and politics is a result of society, not any lower status in the face of the law. A study from the Women & Politics Institute at American University revealed that women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion from anyone to run for office. The study also found that women are more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates, which most likely is the result of the constant talk of how politics is biased against women, without offering any solutions on how to change it.

The lack of women in STEM, law, and politics is largely due to gender stereotypes against women. Women are often teased in schools and receive little encouragement in STEM interests. Somewhere along the line, women are either subconsciously or consciously told that they are not as smart as men, and a recent study showed that despite young women performing better than young males on tests, they are less likely to associate “female” with being “really, really smart.”

It isn’t enough to simply acknowledge that a gender gap exists in STEM, law, and politics — we need to change the way we as a society treat young women and girls. Constantly reminding these young women and girls of the bias against them is not going to achieve anything. The monumental changes begin with each and every American.

There is no need to tell young girls about how STEM, law, and political fields are biased against them. Instead, they need encouragement to study these fields. Current female engineers, scientists, attorneys, and politicians should become mentors for young girls and help give them the encouragement they need so these statistics become obsolete. The United States does not need a quota system for females to achieve equality in these male-dominated professions. Women have equal rights under the law, and there is no reason that women are not strong enough to build ourselves up without the help of the government.

Even those who aren’t women in STEM, law, and politics can help combat stereotypes and allow the gender gap to shrink in these fields. Empower women not through their bodies, but through their brains. If a young girl is interested in math, tell her about engineering. If she asks you why we haven’t had a female president, don’t tell her because there’s a gender gap in politics between men and women — tell her it is simply because she wasn’t born yet. Don’t remind her how she will have a long road ahead in STEM, law, and politics; she will learn this on her own.
Instead, we as a society need to focus on empowering these young girls in elementary and middle schools to study STEM, law, and politics, and assure them that they are brilliant individuals. Doing so is the only way we can stop writing articles about male dominated fields and shrink the gender gap, simply because these problems won’t exist anymore.