Societal Values Lead Women Away from Careers in Science

February 23, 2010

While society has made great strides in progressing towards complete equality for women over the last century, we still have much to do. One particular area (among many) where we have fallen short so far is in the STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Interestingly, however, unlike fair pay or other overt forms of discrimination, the lack of women in scientific professions seems to be occurring because of societal perceptions of these fields and not discriminatory hiring practices. In fact, because of the lack of women in these professions, many employers in STEM fields would love to hire more qualified women, but none are available. Why exactly is this?

Well, it all goes back to the ages old perception of gender roles. While we have seemingly moved past the barbaric notion that women should not work and should instead stay home and care for the family, we have not completely eliminated the perception that certain fields of work are gender specific. For example, when someone says the word “scientist,” what is the first image that comes to mind? For most, it is more than likely an image of Albert Einstein, or a man in a white lab coat with glasses and frizzled hair. Not many people think about Marie Curie, the physicist and chemist who became the first person honored with the Nobel Prize twice, not to mention the first woman to be honored at all. Almost no one conjures an image of Maria Goeppert-Mayer, the theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize for developing the nuclear shell model of atomic nuclei—the same model we continue to use to this day to explain the organization of atoms. Where would science be without their contributions?

The point is, most young women do not grow up hearing about these pioneers and their contributions to science. Most grow up learning from and looking up to mothers who work in office jobs such as insurance, accounting, and real estate or in the medical field as nurses, veterinarians, or (increasingly) doctors. Most girls do not play with model rockets or video games as children. Most are brought up by mothers who played with Barbies as children, and so they buy their daughters dolls instead of computers or chemistry kits. All of this stems from the perception that girls should not be “geeky,” and instead should leave that to guys. By fitting our children into these gender stereotypes, the scientific community is losing out on the potential contributions of brilliant young women everywhere. Instead, we should encourage our children to follow their own paths and interests, letting them know that they can truly grow up to be whatever they want to be, whether it's 'trendy' or not. If that leads to more women engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and computer programmers, the world will be all the better for it.

Read another great article on this topic here .

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Comments:

#1 stock option software (Guest) on Friday March 05, 2010 at 2:55am

we should encourage our children to follow their own paths and interests, letting them know that they can truly grow up to be whatever they want to be, whether it’s ‘trendy’ or not. If that leads to more women engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and computer programmers, the world will be all the better for it.

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