Historically, women have been underrepresented in science, technological, engineering and mathematical fields. Today, in the U.S, 10% of engineers are women and 2% of Nobel Prize winners since 1901 have been women. Although women have made progress and increases of women in STEM fields has been seen, there is still work to be done. (Koehler, 2008). An unfortunate cycle seems to exist in which women, as a minority must face undue hardships, in comparison to men, when trying to succeed in such careers; this leads to a small number of females in STEM fields. Young women, in turn have few role models that inspire and motivate them to enter these fields, so less aim for such careers. African American women are even less likely to be seen in these fields, although, their presence is increasing both in college and in STEM fields (Thomas, Love, Roan-Belle, et all, 2009).
Two decades ago only 31% of African Americans attended college and now that has increased to 44%. While many people are familiar with the term “glass ceiling”, less are familiar with the idea of a “concrete ceiling”. The idea is that Caucasian women have a “glass ceiling” barrier in the work place that prevents them from advancing in their careers. African American women, however, face the barrier of a “concrete ceiling”, which is much more difficult to break through. It is created from the combination of sexism, racism, prejudices and discrimination based on these factors. (Thomas, 2009).
Fortunately, trends such as racism and sexism seem to be decreasing. Researchers have identified some factors that have contributed to the success of African American women. These factors include self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to complete tasks), motivation to break cultural barriers, and academic adjustment. (Thomas, 2009). Marion Thompson Wright was the first African American woman to achieve a PhD in 1940 and more and more have been increasingly successful. Originally, they were socialized to only enter “feminine” careers, such as teaching and social work, so it has taken some time to transition into STEM fields. (Dagbovie, n.d.).
Despite being faced with racism, sexism and class-ism, many women, like Betty Harris have persevered. Women, including African American women are entering college and pursuing STEM careers at increasing rates, but since they have had such a delayed start, they have a lot of catching up to do. It is crucial to encourage and support these women to enter STEM fields so that there are more role models for young women to look up to. If we can accomplish this, then perhaps we can reverse the cycle and obtain a better representation of all races and genders in higher education and science, technological, engineering and mathematical careers.
I have conducted my own basic research over the past couple of weeks. I set out to examine the ratio of women to men in my various classes. In my nursing prerequisite course, there are two men and 19 women. In my advanced writing class, which is a requirement for engineering students, there are five women and 16 men. It is very interesting to see this reversal of gender balance in my courses and this further enforces the idea that we need to do more to change the mind set of young people. Women are still lead towards “feminine” careers over STEM fields like engineering. This is a trend we need to change. Although it is changing already, it is happening too slowly. We must create motivation that pushes more women into STEM fields and give them the support they need while in those fields.