Why are there so few Women in STEM?
by Anjali Yedavalli
It’s early 2017, and my teachers have announced our next teamwork building field trip. Soon enough, the entire eighth grade class got ready to hop on a bus to watch Hidden Figures in theaters. The movie is known for its feelgood undertone, an ode to three powerful, intelligent, and determined Black women defying all odds in the NASA spaceflight department and forever altering the United States’ presence in the realm of space travel.
I smiled to myself—I had already seen the film… twice! My excitement was through the roof. It’s easy to see why films like Hidden Figures have such charm. But what does a story about the women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) of the past have to tell us about women in STEM today? Have we come any further, or is the glass ceiling yet to be broken?
According to the American Association of University Women, women only make up 28% of the STEM workforce. Many suggest that girls are naturally less interested in science, which isn’t true—at least from a worldwide
perspective. In the United States, girls and boys take STEM classes in roughly equal numbers, with the exception of engineering and computer science classes, in which boys have greater enrollment. However, in other countries with higher degrees of gender equality, there is decreased disparity in the number of girls and boys in these types of STEM classes. There is also no such biological difference in boys and girls that makes boys more apt to STEM (“The STEM Gap”). In essence, it seems to be a very American thing for women to feel excluded from STEM—a result of the culture that we breed.
The women in STEM problem is seemingly a self-fulfilling prophecy. Girls are deterred from pursuing science degrees in college due to the fear of being the odd one out. Another negative influential factor is the lack of strong female role models in STEM. One Harvard University study suggests that if girls had the same number of women who were inventor role models as boys have in men, the disparity between women and men in innovation would be cut in half (Bet et. al 2018). Looking specifically at race, Latinas and Black women are the minority groups most likely to be discouraged from STEM careers due to a lack of equal resources and opportunities (“The
STEM Gap”). Asian women are much more represented in STEM and are thought to be progressing well in the field. However, according to Issues in STEM and Technology, Asian women are trailing behind all groups in the number of executive positions they hold in their careers (this issue is often referred to as the “bamboo ceiling”), indicating that no group of women is free from discrimination (“Asian Women in STEM Careers”).
Hidden Figures remains a wonderful film, even if it is not the reality for many women, as we have still not reached the happy ending that was displayed on the silver screen. But perhaps the solution to our problem is
right in front of us, stitched into our culture, ready for us to unweave their century-long threads of bias.
For more information and resources for women in STEM, check out https://women. nasa.gov/ or https://www.ncwit.org/resources.
About Anjali Yedavalli
Anjali Yedavalli is a senior at Dunlap High School. Aside from taking academically rigorous classes, Anjali is involved in Speech Team (IHSA State qualifier in 2020), Student Council, UNICEF Club, the school plays, Jazz Choir, and is the Madrigal Queen of Dunlap’s Madrigal choir. Anjali’s main goal in the community is spreading passion for both academics and creativity. She has organized and led multiple public speaking workshops for middle school students and volunteered her time at North South Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding underprivileged children in India. In addition, she has joined and contributed to the Dunlap Young Musicians, a student-created music group that performs at senior homes on the holidays. She is also active in her Sunday School (Chinmaya Mission) and has helped write promotional songs and plays to help fundraise for the school. Last but not least, Anjali is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer of Mythili Dance Academy and has contributed to shows that have raised over $500k for a variety of charities.