Women in Science

March 28, 2017

For years, a notable gender gap existed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. A Yale study published in 2012 showed that about 20% of physics Ph.D’s in the United States are awarded to women, and 14% of all physics professors in the U.S. are women.

Information provided by National Science Board: Science and Engineering Indicators 2016   
Design by Andrea Munford

    The same study showed that biologists, chemists, and physicists employing scientists are more likely to offer males jobs than females. Found additionally in the study, professors at six major research institutions were presented with two imaginary applicants with identical accomplishments, and were found to be significantly more willing to hire the man. If they did hire the women, they set her salary (on average) as much as $4,000 lower than the man’s.

Ms. Fairbanks supports and encourages women to go into science fields.

    “More women are going into science, but [the] fact [is that] the positions they are holding [are] more associate positions and not leaders,” Waukee biology teacher, Amber Fairbanks, stated. “We gotta just keep chipping away at it so we can get better representation across the board.”

    Many students in STEM degree programs at various colleges share the same experiences when it comes to acceptance of females in the field. Some recall teachers treating them differently because ‘girls can’t do physics’ or being the only girl in their high school AP math and science classes.

    “Women never really had much respect [in] history, let alone in science. I think it’s intimidating to people when a woman is extremely intelligent and respected,” sophomore Emily Redman commented.

   Algebra teacher Carly Cairo shared, “When I was in college for engineering, my guy friends made me ask the TA homework questions because he was more likely to help me because I was a ‘cute girl.’ I was also told as a young teacher, ‘you are lucky the students respect [you], given the way that you are.’ He looked me up and down, implying my gender was a cause for disrespect.” She elaborated on the inequality. “I also had a boss who openly told me that he was glad I was interning with him because the people we worked with had been more helpful on projects because I was ‘cute.’ I hated knowing that my looks had anything to do with how I was being treated. I wanted it to be about my abilities and my performance as a worker.”

Students listens closely as Ms. Fairbanks instructs her first block class.

    To make matters worse, Cairo didn’t have consistent support from the other women who studied alongside her. “The worst part is it wasn’t just men who discriminated. I was also ostracized by some of the other women in the field for not meeting what they felt was the only agenda for women in STEM. Engineering was a back up plan for my desire to be a married, stay-at-home mom. Many of the female engineers felt this was degrading and a step backward for what they stood for,” she explained.

    “I dealt with these issues by not worrying about what other people thought of me. I was going to do my own thing, and be what I thought STEM women should be: whatever they want! I showed the boys and men I worked with that I was an intelligent force to be reckoned with, and I hope the girls saw by example that my goals were not against theirs.”

    Many scientists today argue that things are getting better for young girls entering the STEM fields. Astrophysicist and chairwoman of the Department of Physics at Yale, Meg Urry, predicts that the reason why the number of women in science is increasing is because they have stronger support systems to help protect them from the self-doubt women faced decades ago.

    Sophomore Bhavana Sirimalle summarized, “It’s hard to say if women are treated with more respect now or not. Yes, we are a lot more equal to men than we were a century ago as in aspects of being able to go and work. But in aspects of sexism, it still exists, and men and even some women feel the need to comment about it and put people in their places in a work facility or even in STEM, but we are getting better in some aspects.”  

    Emily Redman voiced her encouragement as well. “I think it’s important that we encourage young girls to go into science, and remind them to never let anyone tell them they can’t. There’s nothing we can’t do.”

    Ms. Fairbanks concluded, “I think anyone, male or female, interested in STEM should pursue that passion. There’s just so many opportunities, […] We’re in a time that we need more science. We need more people that want to go into science, and go after the next big thing to make a better world.”

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