“Why Aren’t There More Women in Science and Tech?”

As a female human living and working in the STEM* realm, I get hit with some form of this question pretty regularly: “Why aren’t there more women in tech?” “Why don’t girls like science?” “What can we do to get more girls into STEM majors in college?” “What’s the gender ratio here?” “What’s it like to be the only girl?”

First off, at 25, I find it bizarre that people still refer to me so frequently as a “girl” in professional settings. But I digress.

How do we get more women interested in science and tech, and how do we get them into STEM fields, you ask? I firmly believe that the answer is to Teach kids science. Let me say it again: TEACH. KIDS. SCIENCE. And when I say “kids” I mean “all kids.” They all deserve an equal education. No more of this bullshit:

Ooo, Beauty Salon and Lib Balm Lab!! You mean I can work on pleasing men with science, too??
I can’t wait until the blowjob kit comes out! Thanks, WildScience.net!

Have you ever read “What Do You Care What Other People Think”, a biography of Richard Feynman? There’s a very, very important line in that book. He tells stories about his father, and quotes something his father once said. Something along the lines of:

If I have a son, I will teach him to be a scientist.

THIS, my friends, is why there are not enough women in science and tech. We treat our daughters differently from our sons, and it affects how they learn, how they perceive themselves, and what they believe they can do. We’re guilty as parents, we’re guilty as peers, and we’re guilty as role models.

If this concerns you, and I believe it should, you are in luck. You are in luck because there are things you can start doing today to get more kids (including females) interested in science:

  1. Be a role model. If you’re female, simply being an example of a woman in STEM can do wonders for kids who are used to seeing nurses and secretaries as the common female roles depicted in cartoons and other media.
  2. Give thoughtful gifts, and teach kids to make their own. That consumer-centric holiday is coming up, after all. How about giving your kids an Arduino Kit, or snap-together circuit set? Or better, take your kids to a local hackerspace and help them 3D print custom ornaments, or laser cut acrylic cards, complete with glowing LEDs? (Check our @carlynorama‘s Valentine’s version here.)
  3. Volunteer with a STEM team. Many schools have Lego Leagues, Tech Challenges, FIRST Robitics Teams, and other science/tech programs. There are also Science Centers and Museums that often need help.
  4. Treat your kids as equals. Show them what’s out there, and allow them to choose — often. Allow them to change their minds. My parents often informed us of what they felt my brother and I were strong at, and routinely enforced their own stereotypes on us whenever we attempted to deviate. I believe they did this unintentionally, without thinking. To this day, they’re still confused as to how I became a Software Engineer, because they can’t see past my 5-year-old self wanting to grow up to run a kitten and pony ranch.
  5. Don’t cast your kids into roles. Just because your daughter likes pink (if she even does), doesn’t mean she necessarily wants to grow up to be a hairdresser. Every day, I ride my pink bicycle to our tech startup, and it has yet to affect my work there.
  6. Fight to get science back into public schools, and teach science in your home. With the onslaught of standardized testing that has attacked our schools in the last decade, educational focus has shifted to getting kids to score well on (primarily) English and Math multiple choice tests. Science has been pushed aside. Enter your kids in science fairs, or just do projects together at home. There are a plethora of online resources catering to this exact situation. For example, Instructables is a GREAT place to start.

I believe very firmly that this is the answer to the entourage of “women in tech” questions. If we want to have a future society of intellectual, educated, capable people, we have to turn our focus to educating all children equally, and showing them what possibilities are out there.

But what about women today, you may ask? We can’t just give up on our generation! I’ll touch on this in another post, but in the meantime, know your resources, and good things will come.

*STEM: Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics