Women in STEM: It Takes a Village

Many of us have heard of the “CSI Effect”, causing a sudden rise in the number of women pursuing a career in Forensic Science.  Grey’s Anatomy has also been credited with increasing the number of female doctors.

Role models do matter.

Dr Karen Parker, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the Social Neurosciences Research Program at Stanford University School of Medicine, was our February speaker (see recording here). She talked about her research on autism and its treatment, which gives hope for many.  She spoke with confidence, conviction, and compassion. What a remarkable role model.  

Dr Parker credited many for her success. Her parents encouraged curiosity and exploration at a young age. She never received messages about girls not being suited for science. Her high school teacher (in Naperville) guided her to reach her potential. Her university advisors and lab partners were highly supportive. Undoubtedly, she applied herself and worked hard, but as the old adage goes, it takes a village.

Despite individual success stories such as Dr Parker’s, there is still a stark disparity of representation of women in STEM, especially in TECH (women constitute only 26% of the tech workforce, while they make up 49% of the total workforce). Women face barriers and are overlooked in the talent pool, stripped of their opportunity to contribute to scientific and technological revolution.  

Although the root causes of the disparity are manifold and mostly systemic, there are some actions we each can take:

Become more informed – being informed about STEM, women in STEM history, representation statistics, and possible ways to close the gap will allow us to be active questioners and challengers of the status quo.

Be a mentor –Studies show that girls lose interest in STEM at around 15 because of social pressure, negative stereotypes, and lack of mentors.

Be a positive role model – avoid self-defeating mindsets such as “I am not good with high tech stuff”, “I have never been good at math.” These send powerful messages to others, especially younger girls. Many “techy” things can be easily learned if one has the desire and curiosity. You don’t need a STEM background.

Support legislation and other activities that promote the inclusion of STEM in early school curriculum – studies show that youth who have positive early STEM experiences will be more likely to:

  • experience growth in STEM interest and curiosity, 
  • value science as useful,
  • be confident in their ability to get involved with STEM, and 
  • be eager for more STEM experience. 

As an example, Senator Laura Ellman, working with members of Vision 1948, recently introduced legislation in the Illinois Senate (SB2682) to create a task force to increase representation of women in tech. 

Let us all be the village for our next generation of girls!

(Visit the Vision 1948 website for more information. (Vision 1948 – Bringing Gender Parity Back to Tech) Vision 1948 is a partner initiative of AAUW Naperville, whose mission is to drive for gender parity in Technology through education, advocacy, and influencing the media and legislation.)