Women have made tremendous progress in education and the workplace during the past 50 years. Even in historically male fields such business, law, and medicine, women have made impressive gains, however, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) women’s progress has been slower, particularly in engineering, computer science and physics.
The American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math sheds light on the reasons behind women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields. Drawing on a large and diverse body of peer-reviewed research, the report presents recent evidence on the social and environmental factors contributing to the disparity between the numbers of men and women in these fields. The findings are organized in three areas: social and environmental factors shaping girls’ achievements and interest in math and science; the college environment; and the continuing importance of bias, often operating at an unconscious level, as an obstacle to women’s success in STEM.
Why So Few? demonstrates the effects of societal beliefs and the learning environment on girls’ achievements and interest in science and math. Also touched on are small changes that universities and colleges can make that add up to big gains in female student and faculty recruitment and retention. Efforts such as providing a broader overview of various fields in introductory courses and improving departmental culture to promote the integration of female faculty.
Unconscious bias is also touched on in the report, which may influence girls’ and women’s likelihood of cultivating their own interests in math and science as well. Though we cannot answer the question completely of why there are so few women in STEM fields, we do know that stereotypes, bias and other cultural beliefs can change. Often the very act of identifying a stereotype or bias begins the process of dismantling it.
To read the full Why So Few? report click here.