Why so Few? Gender Gap in STEM

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By Deba Priya R

Posted on February 5, 2024


5 min read

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In the vast landscape of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), a conspicuous gender gap persists, raising important questions about inclusivity and diversity. Despite advancements in acknowledging the importance of equal representation, the number of women in STEM fields remains disproportionately low.

The underrepresentation of girls and women persists as a challenge that hinders the full potential of these fields. However, amidst this disparity lies a growing movement to empower and encourage more girls and women to pursue and thrive in STEM careers.

According to UNESCO, “In 2019 the average global rate of female researchers was only 29.3% and just 35% of STEM students in higher education were women. The gender gap widens the further one advances in educational levels, which explains, to some extent, why historically only 22 women have won the Nobel Prize in any branch of science. In Latin America and the Caribbean, women represent less than 30% of all researchers in science. Likewise, in terms of enrollment in STEM careers at the higher education level, women represent only 34% in Argentina, 25% in Chile, 30% in Brazil, and 38% in Mexico.”

Many enduring and deeply ingrained facts have been linked to the gender gap in STEM, including the following:

  • Lack of Support Systems: It is critical to establish robust support systems for women in STEM. Networking opportunities, venues for exchanging experiences, and mentoring programs can assist women in overcoming systemic barriers and navigating obstacles they may encounter.
  • Stereotype Threat: A psychological barrier known as stereotype danger can be created by the fear of verifying unfavorable stereotypes about one’s gender. The fear of being evaluated differently because of their gender might affect the confidence and performance of women in STEM fields. In order to empower women in STEM, environments that reduce the threat of stereotypes must be created.
  • Lack of Role Models: Lack of female role models in STEM fields can deter ambitious women from pursuing their dreams because representation matters. By dispelling myths and demonstrating that these professions are open to people of both genders, showcasing accomplished women in STEM disciplines can motivate the next generation.
  • Educational Disparities: Girls may encounter subliminal biases that discourage them from pursuing STEM fields from a young age. Education policies and social norms frequently steer females away from STEM fields unintentionally, which reduces their exposure to and possibilities in these fields. In order to close this gap, it is imperative that STEM education be made accessible to all and that misconceptions that could deter young girls from pursuing these disciplines be dispelled.
  • Historical Precedents: Women have always felt marginalized in STEM professions due to the male predominance. One major factor that has prevented people from choosing particular job routes is the persistence of stereotypes and cultural expectations. For the STEM community to be more inclusive, it is imperative to challenge these deeply held assumptions.

Workplace gender imbalance can be attributed, in part, to job division. There is an ingrained notion in most countries that men are just more capable of performing particular tasks. Generally speaking, those are the highest paying positions. Women who experience discrimination typically earn less money. In addition, women bear the majority of the burden for unpaid labor; hence, even while they engage in the paid workforce, they continue to perform additional work that receives no compensation.

The gender gap in various countries are listed as shown by IAS Parliament a Shankar IAS Academy Initiative, 

  •  India In India, more than 50% of illustrations in math and science textbooks in primary show boys and only 6% show illustrations of girls.
  • The US 26% of tech start-ups have at least one female founder.
  • Europe Only 21% of tech founders are female.
  • The UK Over a quarter of girls say they have been put off a career in tech as it is too male-dominated and only 22% can name a famous female working in the field.

Unconscious gender bias plays a significant role in perpetuating the gender gap in STEM fields. Biases may influence hiring decisions, career advancement, and workplace dynamics, contributing to the underrepresentation of women in STEM. In order to solve this problem, policies that lessen bias in hiring and promotion are being put in place, as well as diversity and inclusion training. It is possible to dispel preconceptions and reduce the gender gap in STEM areas by promoting mentorship, creating supportive work cultures, and highlighting the accomplishments of accomplished women in the sector.

In conclusion, a comprehensive strategy is needed to understand the “why” behind the gender gap in STEM. In order to create a more equal future, it will be necessary to address these concerns collaboratively, from establishing inclusive workplace cultures to overcoming past biases and preconceptions. Breaking down the hurdles that have prevented women from pursuing STEM careers for far too long is just as important as encouraging more of them to do so. We can only expect to see a time when the gender gap in STEM fields is closed via concentrated effort.