I’ll admit that when I first came across this article, I wasn’t exactly blown away by its central theme. Why? Because I know that women can do math, and well. Some of the top academic performers I’ve met in high school and college have been extremely bright and motivated women. My encounters with these math and science superstars had long ago cemented my belief that women thrive just as well as men in challenging academic environments. The article does raise some interesting generalizations that I haven’t considered before. Along with the continued gender discrimination in many workplaces, women’s non-competitive attitudes to their careers have been located as a key hurdle in the development of their careers. Women are generally unwilling to participate in environments with an element of competition.
A recent study tested this trend by setting up a competition for both men and women with rewards for winners. Women were initially hesitant to enter the competition, but after incentives were announced for female participants, more women joined the competition and excelled. These results reflect the caution with which many females approach competitive jobs and promotions and necessitate engaging in active discourse about measures needed to be set up for women to get that competitive edge in the workforce.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields are a career domain that is currently saturated by white males, where a little feminine presence would be highly valued. This article is hardly the first to report on the consistent shortage of scientists, engineers and technologically-savvy employees in the United States, but it guides a discussion about the attractiveness of traditional non-STEM jobs and the resulting desertion of STEM fields. There are vacancies in STEM fields; an arena that has historically restricted marginalized populations from membership through strict adherence to the proper academic knowledge and training. Here lie untapped career opportunities where qualified women can find opportunities to advance their careers and improve American innovation and competitiveness on a global scale.
However, this 2011 report published by the United States Department of Commerce reveals that while about 50% of the college-educated workforce is female, there still is a significant underrepresentation of women in STEM-related jobs. Only 25% of STEM-jobs in this country are held by women. Another interesting statistic is that women in STEM fields earn about 33% more than their non-STEM counterparts. As a result, the earning gap between men and women is considerably smaller in STEM fields. The underrepresentation of women in these competitive yet high-earning jobs is a real cause for concern and more efforts are needed to develop and bolster their future involvement in these fields.
CWEALF is in the forefront of combating the crippling effects of self-efficacy in women attempting to close the achievement gap between the sexes in the workforce. CWEALF has organized numerous Expo events for middle- and high-school girls, where careers that utilize hard sciences and mathematics are showcased in an effort to start a dialogue about career possibilities at an earlier age. In attempting to mold future STEM-field employees by capturing their interest in core subjects earlier on in their educational careers, CWEALF, through these Expo events, seeks to empower female students to pursue fields that are currently male-dominated by asking the important questions.
“Should I take algebra in 8th grade?”
“Will I be able to place into the advanced math courses in college without taking intermediate algebra in high school?
“What jobs will be available to me if I select this major in college?”
The next Expo event will take place on March 30th at Gateway Community College in North Haven and aims to discuss with 9th and 10th grade girls the importance of high-school course selection to college major compatibility.
CWEALF is also involved in various training and technical assistance engagements throughout the state for teachers and educational support staff to identify tactics to recruit girls for higher math and science coursework. Our various staff members are actively involved with collaborative and initiatives in workplace development for the future of women, not only in STEM, but a variety of other technical and emerging fields. By sharing successful strategies and social goals, CWEALF is committed to providing students, teachers, and influential community members alike with information necessary to start talking about non-traditional career paths where women are likely to succeed. In doing so, CWEALF hopes to reduce women’s self-defeating attitudes that otherwise prevent them for moving forward in their professional lives.
Photos by CWEALF, 02/12/2012, Naugatuck Valley Community College Expo
Written by Sariga Santhosh. Sariga is an intern at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund who aspires to be a policy analyst one day.