By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
There is much talk these days about girls and STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In 2009, only 24% of scientists and engineers were women. This is not surprising, given the fact that women comprise only about 17% of the students earning degrees in these subjects, as compared to the 79% of students earning bachelor’s degrees in education. There are material benefits to building careers in STEM. A woman in a STEM-related career earns, on average, 33% more than a woman in a non-STEM field. Given the continued gender wage gap, and the high numbers of women in poverty in this country, it makes sense to encourage an interest in STEM. How to do so has been the tricky part. Colleges and universities — as well as prospective employers — actively recruit women to enroll in STEM programs. But getting young women interested in these fields has been more difficult. The old maxims that girls don’t pursue these interests because “Math class is tough,” and their brains are not “hardwired” for it, no longer suffice. Researchers have found ample evidence that demonstrates that it is a combination of gender conditioning and a lack of role models that make girls feel that they don’t “belong” in STEM. This isn’t just about finding gender equity in the workplace or the college classroom, then; it’s also about reframing the gendered messages we send to young girls and women about femininity and science.