Women Studies 320

2. Social Factors

Women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Although the rate of women obtaining degrees in engineering has nearly doubled in the past decade, the rate of women who actually become engineers has remained constantly low, around 11%. (Horting, n.d.). This under-representation of the female population means that there are very few role models for young girls. If little girls don’t have someone showing them that being a scientist or an engineer isn’t just for boys, then they will continue to be lead down other, more socially acceptable paths/careers and be underrepresented in STEM careers.

Graph representing engineering degrees awarded (by gender)
© 2006 National Science Board

graph 1

Graph representing women in STEM fields
© Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Researchers have found that we go through critical learning periods at a very young age (Altshuler and Berg, 2003). During this time, we learn about spatial skills and problem solving skills, which are particularly important skills that an engineer must master. While some research has shown that boys have greater spatial skills, other studies have refuted this information leading to inconsistent results. However, studies have still shown that even if a difference in spatial skills does exist across sexes, this difference can be overcome with education and practice. (Voyer and Bryden, 1995).

If we can foster interest and passion towards math and science in young girls, provide them with positive (female) role models that show them they too can be engineers, and give them the chance to develop their skills (spatial, problem solving, etc.), then perhaps we can reverse this trend. If only half as many females who are getting engineering degrees are becoming engineers, then something is wrong. Women receive more than half of all Bachelor’s degrees, yet they either aren’t being hired or they aren’t staying in these male dominated careers. Politically we need to take action and possibly even create an affirmative action type of bill that requires companies to hire a representative proportion of females as their employees. How do we get more females into STEM fields, though? How do we push for gender equality in the workplace?

Some are saying that toys are the answer. Since early child development is such a crucial time period for developing fundamental skills that are essential to STEM careers, then what could be a better way than to give children toys that do just that, develop their skills? Traditionally, Legos have been that toy, but they are primarily marketed to boys. (Kapp, 2013). When walking into any toy store, you can immediately see a distinct difference in the girls’ pink and pastel colored aisle and the boys’ blue and bold colored aisle. The boys’ aisle tends to focus on Legos, Lincoln logs, Knects, erector sets and models while the girls’ aisle is filled with dolls and dress up items, princesses and fairy tales. Girls want to build stuff too! GoldieBlox have been specifically designed to foster spatial skills in a more gender neutral way, but especially for girls. By building, creating and designing their own products, children learn fundamental skills that they can later put to use in exciting careers, like engineering. (Kapp, 2013).

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