The gender gap present in STEM careers is a persistent one. While other industries have seen the balance between men and women begin to improve, the shortage of women within STEM continues to prevail with women making up only 14.4% of STEM workers in the UK. So, why aren’t there more female scientists? It’s not an easy question to answer, and a number of in-depth studies examining the STEM gender gap have reached the same resounding (yet unsatisfying) conclusion: it’s complicated.
To really comprehend the gender gap in STEM careers, we need to look at multiple strands, ranging from socialisation to confidence. The following 3 reasons can help us understand the gender gap in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
1. Socialisation & Gender Stereotypes
Gender roles are generally understood to be the associative qualities, abilities and behaviours we link to a person’s gender. From colour-coded toys (pink for girls, blue for boys) onward, the divide between male from female starts at a young age. So how does this socialisation affect the gender gap in STEM industries?
Well, one study found that by the age of 6, girls are already 52% more likely to associate being 'really smart' with boys rather than girls.
These preconceived notions of intelligence, as well as the idea that there are 'girl subjects' and 'boy subjects', are bound to have a knock-on effect on the number of girls even considering pursuing STEM academically. The impact of this is reflected in university stats; in the USA, for instance, just 35% of STEM graduates are female.
Confidence may be a key factor in understanding why there aren’t more female scientists. It is human nature to follow that you believe is most likely to end in success. There is a wealth of evidence to indicate that, once you remove social factors from the equation, there is no significant qualitative difference in scientific capability between the sexes – so the male majority in STEM fields can't simply be chalked up to innate scientific ability.
However, males generally display a higher level of confidence in their own scientific competence. This is a likelier explanation for the male-dominated workforce within the science industry.
3. Misconceptions & Disadvantages
It seems that there are a high number of women with the ability to pursue a science-based career who – for whatever reason – don’t choose to go in that direction. Even when women qualify to work within scientific fields, the turnover and drop-out rate of women in STEM fields remains high.
This may be partially explained by some of the misconceptions that surround the STEM industry, as well as the very real disadvantages that some women face. Childcare and maternity leave, for example, are frequently cited as deterrents for women who might otherwise have been interested in pursuing a career in science. Many countries aren't very accommodating towards women who require maternity leave, and this - combined with the general feeling that such a male-dominated industry will not be understanding about maternity requirements - can put female scientists off in a big way.
We hope this blog has helped you to understand some of the reasons why there aren’t more female scientists currently working in STEM industries. This gender gap isn’t an unchangeable state of affairs – many organisations are already working hard to get more girls interested in science and technology from a young age, and this hopefully means that there’ll be an influx of female scientists in the near future. Every little helps, and every woman who enters the STEM industry closes the gender gap a little bit more.
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