Girls Who Innovate Winner Anushka: 5 reasons why there are less women in the STEM field
We stand in the 21st century – a world where augmented reality games like Pokemon Go have been developed, animals can be cloned and gender equality is being achieved more day by day. Yet, in what can be considered the most successful career of the future, in the field of STEM, women are frowned upon.
My name is Anushka Purohit, and I am 1 of the 4 girls in my year level at school who takes mathematics at higher level, and the only girl who hopes to develop a career in the STEM field. I enjoy public speaking, debating and writing, and have lived in Hong Kong for 17 years now. I enjoy bridging my interests with widespread problems around the world, in efforts to raise awareness and alleviate these problems. I really enjoy using technology, and am amazed everyday by the things technology lets us do! Yet…
“Hey Anushka – what do you want to do in the future?”
“I’m not entirely sure… Maybe engineering? Computer Science?”
I’m always greeted with the same look, but for two different reasons. The first group of people look at me with their eyes almost bulging out of their sockets, quietly muttering “since when did girls want to do science stuff?” and covering it up with a smile. (Obviously, they weren’t that quiet because almost every time I would hear them make this snide comment) The rest of them would raise their brows for 3 seconds, look me up and down to make sure I wasn’t joking and proceed to freak out. “Isn’t that like, super hard? How are you going to do it?!”
The problem here isn’t in the thinking of people. The mind is both the strongest and the weakest part of the human body – while it contains all that we think we know, it loosely holds this knowledge together and is easily molded by its surroundings. Once we ensure that women themselves know they can (and most probably will) excel in this field, the mentalities of those around will conform to the norm
Stereotypes associated with women in STEM
When even your closest friends can keep a mentality that degrades women from entering the STEM fields, imagine the looks girls get when they sit an engineering entrance test or join a coding class. Most of the time, the female cohort of the class consists of less than 5 girls. The aura of pressure and judgement around them is more obvious to them, and subconsciously they are exposed to it. Why doesn’t the same happen to boys? Because ‘we’ have set that boys in STEM is the norm. Why can’t students in STEM become the norm?
Lack of awareness of this bias
Today, so many women around the world are doing amazing things in the STEM field. Yet, if you were to ask someone to name two women doing amazing things in the STEM field, they most likely wouldn’t know. However, ask them two men doing amazing things in the STEM field, and watch them list Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and many more. Most people don’t even realize that this bias exists, but the only way out of this subconscious bias is to raise awareness!
High school programs focusing on other fields
Even the best high schools in the world today do not offer all the subjects – and most of the time, the subjects that are left out are of those in the science fields. From Computer Science to Astronomy, many of these classes are left out because of their complex nature. Therefore, students (girls and boys alike) interested in these programs have fewer opportunities to explore it, and therefore end up being steered into another direction.
Career Talks & Visits
Since majority of students in schools aim to study medicine, law or psychology, high schools cater any further education talks to these topics. While many doctors, lawyers and psychologists giving talks about further education is great, it is incredibly rare to have someone from the STEM field come in to give an insight about what it’s like. The STEM field is an ideal field for many, and students usually are curious about the field and have many questions. While the Internet is a platform that provides answers, it is nothing compared to the experience of speaking to someone working in the actual field – a crucial aspect for students to decide whether this is the field they want to study in.
To enter the STEM field, your chosen subjects also have to be quite unique. Many people don’t enjoy math, a very important subject to take for STEM. Most people also prefer chemistry & biology over physics, but physics provides you with a solid base of knowledge for STEM. When students take their subjects, the process is incredibly daunting – what keeps them going is that perhaps they’ll share classes with their best friends! This is rarely the case with STEM students – me for example. None of my closest friends share even one class with me, and more often than not, I only see my friends twice a week. But hey, just because you don’t share classes doesn’t mean the friendship isn’t as strong? If anything, your friends should be there to support you at all times. Pursuing subjects for the STEM field is actually a lot of fun – you’re always learning something new and can teach this new knowledge to your friends every day, while thinking about daily actions like walking at a whole new level!
Thankfully, the situation is improving. With companies like Ericsson taking the extra step and promoting girls in STEM, like through the Girls in Innovation competition, more and more girls are leaning towards pursuing their true interests, even with the seemingly less opportunities. It’s all about challenging the norm and taking that first step forward – just like Sally Ride, Missy Cummings and Sheryl Sandberg. Next time a girl tells you she’s interested in the STEM field, smile really big at her and pat her on the back. You never know, she might just become super successful in the future!