Happy (Belated) International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day, in case you didn’t know. I didn’t…oops 🙂

Coincidently, Nathalia Gjersoe published a piece via The Guardian examining gender gaps in STEM. She touches on whether or not they are socially constructed (they are), whether or not girls are worse than boys at STEM subjects in school (they’re not), and more.

It’s safe to say that many factors are at play here…In any case, I will point out one undeniable truth of the matter. A disproportionate number of gals are capable of entering technical fields, but don’t.

Society has come a long way in the last few decades. We are now dying to know why so many women choose to abandon their STEM potentials.

Well, I can tell you why I didn’t.

I’ll preface this by acknowledging that I am relatively fortunate; my academic/professional environments have been, and still remain, largely gender-neutral. All the same, I would be lying if I said gender disparity and “social belongingness” never cross my mind as a woman, a part-time engineering student, and a part-time engineer.

My upbringing renders such thoughts irrelevant. Before I could even form memories, I was told I could do or be anything if I work hard. My dad spoke as though it is probable, not possible, for me to earn the same positions and salaries that he does as a highly-specialized software consultant.

And so I was bulletproof. No child, adult, teacher, professor, peer, male or otherwise could make me doubt my sense of belonging in a male-dominated field. Not little Josh in 5th grade, who was genuinely confused when I showed up to math league tryouts because I “like makeup and pocketbooks too much.” Nor Spence in college, who suggested I was being sensitive when I felt patronized by an administrator.

I’d like to hear from other ladies in STEM: Why didn’t you abandon your STEM potential?

2 Replies to “Happy (Belated) International Women’s Day”

  1. The Guardian article you linked cites one inconclusive research paper performed in a single country (Sweden) to arrive at the proposition that gender disparity in STEM fields exist largely (if not completely as could be implied by the wording) because of gender stereotypes. However, gender stereotypes are only one small part of the story, and the degree to which they affect women on the whole in a liberalized western democracy is at best unclear.

    The Sweden paper picked Sweden specifically because Swedish society is considered more gender neutral according to an empirical scale from another study cited within that research paper (that I shall assume is valid arguendo). The research paper concedes that a study concerning a single country is by its very nature limiting, and that a country such as Sweden with high income, and higher perceived gender equality exhibits an even larger relative disparity of gender representation in stem fields. Last, but not least it further concedes that the results of the study should be taken with great caution because all they’ve really done is find correlations between the self-efficacy of women in stem fields, and a corresponding lack of women in the same.

    My second issue with that article arises under the characterisation of barriers to women in stem fields as merely a social construct. The postmodern theory of social constructionism is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall into that completely disregards the nature portion of the nature vs. nurture debate. I think these studies, do a complete disservice to the noble profession of human profession of human psychology by totally disregarding the fundamental differences in the biological make-up of men, and women.

    I want to emphasize that none of the foregoing statements are meant to imply in anyway that I believe that the status quo of gender disparity in stem fields is good, or bad. I simply do not know, and I don’t believe we as a society know either considering the unfortunate circumstance that women have only been participating in the workplace to such a large degree for the better part of 50 years. On the other hand I completely agree that we as a society should do all we can to nurture young women to explore the realms of stem & other historically male dominated fields of their own accord.

    Happy belated International Women’s Day.


  2. Thanks for the comment, bro! I agree that gender stereotypes are one part of the story, and that psychological differences are another part (among many other parts). While valid and thought-provoking points are raised in The Guardian article, the article itself does not wholly represent my take on the matter.

    One conclusion we can safely draw from numerous studies and articles on these studies: STEM literacy and retention rate in STEM programs is not the bottleneck here. In other words, it appears that men and women perform equally against these metrics. We aren’t losing women because they are incapable.

    I concede that “social construct” is not a perfect label to slap on the matter, as this term leans towards the nurture end of the nature vs nurture debate. Arguably, disproportionately so, and it is not my intention at all to disregard nature.


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