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  • Shawna Christenson

Women in STEM: Start Early-- Maya Mohanty (9th grade)

Since the 1970s, women’s representation in the STEM workforce has increased in all fields. However, regardless of this positive course, the number of men engaging in different STEM subjects in college is increasing more rapidly than that of women As a result , the gender gap in STEM is growing and men still dominate the STEM space, while women often face obstacles that can alter their education and career paths.

In the STEM workforce, women remain underrepresented by making up 28% of this space. A large constituent of this problem is the fact that gender stereotypes and bias drive many women from pursuing passions in STEM-related jobs. Since the STEM workforce is dominated by males, people view the STEM field as masculine. Research conducted on societal views on women in STEM claims that society views women in science and engineering jobs as less competent than men unless they demonstrate significant success. Stereotypes such as these directly affect women’s motivation to pursue STEM jobs. Studies by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization show that the women who choose to pursue a career in STEM, later face impediments such as unequal pay and restricted career progressions. Many girls, especially in adolescent years, try to fit in with their peers and this takes priority over pursuing their interests and passions. As a result of this, many girls feel uncomfortable with answering or asking a question for a fear of being wrong and not accepted.

Due to the lack of women in STEM, there are few STEM role models for young girls, students, and college graduates to become inspired by. Having mentors that have a similarity to a group of people is vital for recruitment and retention. While we know and learn about men in STEM and the impact they’ve had on the advancement of humanity and science, there have always been women in STEM who have had to go against all odds, gender discrimination, and great societal pressure to pursue their passions and goals. There are many famous STEM women, such as Katherine Johnson and Marie Curie, without whom some advancements in science may have never happened. Yet, their male counterparts received more recognition and were associated with the overall success. We hear less about the women historically, with an educational focus on men. People frequently connect with famous people, historical figures, and fictional characters and use them as role models to inspire them to pursue dreams and goals; yet women, and young girls especially, are less likely to have this advantage as role models are fewer.

For women and girls to have a voice in STEM education, the STEM workforce, and in STEM policy is critical if we are to help meet the growing demand of this career field. Since the field of STEM is always expanding, the involvement of girls in STEM education will prepare them for understanding and conquering various subjects and concepts that are often dismissed as “too hard”. Additionally, this will also enable females to better at use and design technologies to solve real problems the world, maximizing creativity, innovation, and competitiveness.

For me, personally, joining the Wolverine CubeSat Development Team (WCDT) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fl has allowed me to pursue my passions and interests. Before joining the program, I hadn’t been exposed to many fields in STEM and when I first joined, I was completely shocked by the content that was taught and how students my age, and even younger, can launch CubeSats and advocate at the local, state, and national level. I was extremely timid and was afraid of failure at first, but by participating in many of the policy and aerospace events, and speaking and presenting to professionals in the aerospace fields, I felt like I belonged. One of the biggest challenges of joining, at first, other than the content, was, just like the STEM workforce, the WCDT was male-dominated and I didn’t feel like I fit in. But I realized that if I didn’t take up this incredible opportunity, I wouldn't be prepared for college and future challenges, and moreover, I became the female role model to the younger girls behind me.

Overall, STEM career pathways are critical in the future, and getting women and girls interested in STEM is important for the overall growth and betterment of society. For something like this to happen, gender stereotypes need to be dropped so that girls can focus on building confidence in their contributions to STEM and so that they can focus on how they can advance society. A career in STEM offers a plethora of opportunities for girls, gives them a chance to shape the world for the better, and job sustainability in an increasingly tech-focused world.

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