Placeholder Banner

Why Are Women Underrepresented in Scientific Fields?

February 21, 2012
Last week, I wrote about the systemic failure of public schools to prepare kids for science and math focused jobs. These aren't just theoretical jobs of tomorrow, they are well-paid positions that American employers literally can't fill fast enough.

Despite this nation's poor international ranking in both math and science educational achievement, tech focused jobs in the U.S. have grown at three times the normal pace through this past decade. This trend is expected to amplify through the foreseeable future.

[caption id="attachment_6429" align="alignright" width="235" caption="Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math"][/caption]

Looking specifically at the people who hold these science and tech jobs, the gender gap is unmistakable. Men outnumber women three-to-one. Interestingly, a nationwide survey of 1,000 teen girls from the Girl Scout Research Institute shows that a lack of interest in science isn't the problem.

There is a long-standing biased perception that girls don't perform as well in math and science as boys. However, the American Association of University Women has shown that high school girls and boys perform equally well in math and science.

If this is the case, why aren't girls prioritizing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields when thinking about their future careers? I suspect this is another example of how public school systems, and universities for that matter, are not adequately preparing students for the requirements of today's workplace.

Here are some interesting findings from a recently released report, entitled Generation STEM: What Girls Say About Science, Technology, Engineering and Math:

  • Overall, a majority of girls find STEM fields interesting: 74 percent of teen girls are interested in the fields of STEM and in STEM subjects.

  • Girls are interested in the process of learning, asking questions, and problem solving: 88 percent of girls like to understand how things work; 85 percent like puzzles and solving problems; and 83 percent like doing hands-on science projects.

  • Girls interested in STEM are high achievers who have supportive adult networks and are exposed to STEM fields.

  • Although interest in STEM is high, few girls consider it their number-one career choice, given competing opportunities and interests: 81 percent of girls are interested in pursuing STEM careers, but only 13 percent say it is their first choice.