Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sexism in STEM fields, Perception or Reality?

When I started as an architect in my home country, I worked in a civil engineering company, which I was the only female working alongside of twelve men.  Given my interest in architecture, I continue to work in my role despite the harassment or comments I heard most days. I used my interest and expertise to change the environment; I worked and receive the respect that I deserved. 

After many years of struggle, nowadays, women play a major role in our society alongside of men.  Recent studies of higher education graduates indicate a higher number of women graduating from our schools than men. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), women comprise 48 percent of the U.S. workforce but just only 24 percent of STEM workers. (STEM is an abbreviation of academic specialization in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields).

According to the article, “Technology’s Man Problem” Among the women who join the STEM field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men, according to research from the Harvard Business School.

Given the data provided and many other examples, we witness a clear indication of discrepancies that exist in employment and involvement of females versus men in STEM fields. For many, provided these discrepancies, is easy to draw the conclusion that we are facing a real scenario of sexism in STEM fields. To further this thought, some public speakers and opinion shapers in the industry are also playing a significant role in advancing this argument. For example, in the article “Technology’s Man Problem”, Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described working in tech; “I’ve been a programmer for 13 years, and I’ve always been one of the only women and queer people in the room. I’ve been harassed, I’ve had people make suggestive comments to me, I’ve had people basically dismiss my expertise.” She continues, “A lot of times that makes me want to leave… and is it right for me to have to leave when I’m not creating the problem?”

I truly agree that different degrees of sexism exist in all type of industries.  Howev that is not limited to only one industry or nation. In my personal experience, when I was studying architecture in my home country, as part of my research in building material, I had to interview one physicist after another. But when I was almost done with my research, I came to realize that although I had interviewed many physicists, none of them were female. So this problem is not limited to our boarders. 

But here, I would like to make my case that although such discrepancies exist, the problem is not the perceived sexism but it is the reality of shortage in female candidates in the field.
Social scientists believe there are various reasons for the existence of this gender gap in STEM fields, and seeking ways to increase diversity within STEM fields. According to a recent study in the “Journal of Hormones and Behavior”, we see a significant role biology plays in influencing our interest in things, which explains women innate interest in people related careers.  Specifically, according to the “Department of Labor” website in year 2010 stat shows, 91.1 percent of registered nurses comprise of female, also 80.8 percent of social workers.  In my opinion, most these nurses and social workers are also facing suggestive comment, harassment and verbal abuse, but yet majority of these roles are fulfills with females.  So I argue women real interest in these fields overcoming the problem their face at work.

 According to the recent study in the “Journal of Hormones and Behavior”, they found that genetics play a key role in the career choices we make.  In short, men become astronauts and women prefer nursing because of our biological nature, not just environmental factors. Biological explanations tend to provide better answers for gender differences in our career.  For example, Biological studies in this zone showed that women have less Three-dimension imagination than men. It means females have difficulty picturing ideas or shapes in forms of 3D in their mind. But same studies have also shown that such skills can be thought and developed in women given systematic exercises and practice. 

Despite growth in entrepreneurship, women lead only 8 percent of technology start-ups.  And while women obtain the majority of college degrees, they represent only 15 percent of senior management in all industries.  Given the significant role we have seen biology plays in influencing are interest, I believe we need to raise the interest of females in STEM careers in there early age.  We need to create an environment, which interest in science and technology can grow by nature at a young age, so girls won’t stand out on the sidelines as the boys participate in science fairs.

Therefore I argue that we should find ways to show females ways in which their interest in people is compatible with STEM careers.

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