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(1/30/08) Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Fields

posted Feb 25, 2010, 1:59 PM by Christine Merrill
Several months ago, my advisor sent me this article regarding women in STEM fields and asked my opinion. I wrote a lengthy email with some of my feelings, and he recently said that he thought I should publish it somewhere. I don't think that he's right - I would have to do a lot of polishing before I could publish it, but my little friendly webpage is a casual venue. As with all my opinions, you're welcome to comment/disagree all you want.

I respond to one interesting article with another: I read this a couple years ago (when the article was published) and thought it to be the most interesting article I had read on the topic of women in engineering in a long time...even though that wasn't the exact topic. Anyway, you can tell me what you think of both of the articles. I think that the Scientific American article is pretty true: there are inherent differences, learned differences, and biases that all combine to influence career choices for women. I believe more strongly than my peers seem to that there really are significant inherent differences between men and women, and that gender roles aren't just archaic remnants of male domination. I don't think that Larry Summers would have made so much news if he said that fewer men stay home with children because they don't tend to have the same level of innate ability as women do for nurturing....nobody seems to have a problem with that concept.

Still, there are lots of women who would (or do) enjoy STEM areas...and enough biased experience seems to come to a whole lot of them sometime in life to cause some other choice of career. I balk at the idea of "coaxing" more women into engineering - it makes me feel like the women are being shoved into engineering against their own preference for the sake of the principle...I prefer the idea of supporting women who choose STEM areas - but, of course, this has it's own set of complexities. Actually, the part of the way things are right now that bothers me the most is the pressure put on any woman who goes into engineering to work - a lot of my friends have admitted that they would like to have a family and stay home, but the social pressure to stay in the workforce is very strong - and strongly nurturing women are turned off of engineering because of the perception that an engineering degree is only for the career-oriented woman.