Women in STEM


Aug 31, 2016

The typical cliché goes that men and women are from two different planets, different as night and day with one completing all the rough, hard work while the other is satisfied staying quiet and looking pretty. This age old stereotype is subconsciously ingrained into society and may be the reason why more men typically dominate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.  

cisc3bxzg004dq6gzxsf8wsea 10177859 10153490832709575 9131604828713652247 n

Recently, much of society largely believed that the brain chemistry of men and women were different, possibly allowing for men to perform better in STEM fields and women to excel in liberal arts. Scientific American reported that “Male brains have more connections within hemispheres to optimize motor skills, whereas female brains are more connected between hemispheres to combine analytical and intuitive thinking.” 

However, a new study called “Sex Beyond the Genitalia: The Human Brain Mosaic” finally proves the outdated stereotype wrong. Fourteen scientists from Tel-Aviv University conducted research on more than 1,400 brains to investigate if there is in fact a difference between male and female brains.

According to their study, the researchers focused on patterns of brain connectivity, grey matter, and white matter all of which have previously been suspected to connect with biological sex. They hypothesized that if there were a real, recognizable difference between male and female brains, they would notice a strong difference in these features between male and female brains.

Their findings showed that there is no such thing as a male or female brain because they did not see a clear separation of the features between men and women. In fact, they discovered that almost all the brains examined shared both the “masculine” and “feminine” features and that it was extremely rare for a brain to show only masculine or feminine features. Some brains showed more masculine or more feminine features but still had elements of both, suggesting a spectrum ranging from more male to more female.  

This study leaves little room for the stereotype that men are typically better at math and women are typically better at language, so then why is there such a small number of women studying STEM? 

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, “While women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (18.2%), engineering (19.2%), physics (19.1%), and mathematics and statistics (43.1%). 

The National Girls Collaborative Project explains, “Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (58%) and biological and medical sciences (48%) and relatively low shares in engineering (13%) and computer and mathematical sciences (25%).” 

Members of the Psychology Department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst concluded that the reason less women study STEM is due to gender bias in early socialization in their research, “STEMing the Tide.” Although brain chemistry was a clever excuse, the problem was society all along. 

Reshma Saujani, the CEO of Girls Who Code, completed a TED Talk called, Teach girls bravery, not perfection, where she explains this socialization. She says, “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off headfirst…In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.” 

Saujani further explains that one HP statistic says men will apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the requirements while women will only apply if they meet 100% of the requirements. She says of the statistic, “I think it’s evidence that women have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and they’re overly cautious.” 

Even when women do decide to pursue a STEM career, many of them still have to face an onslaught of stereotypes. 

GREEN alumna and Civil Engineering major/Construction Management minor at Colorado State University, Sierra Watson shares her perspective as a woman in STEM. She says her biggest challenge is finding friends who want to learn with her.

She says, “Engineers have a big problem assuming that everyone around them is smart enough and everyone understands what’s going on. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that 90% of that class doesn’t know what you think they do. And NONE of them are asking enough questions. So as being the only girl who ever pipes up to say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t make sense,” this can tend to lower your self-esteem because engineers also tend to act like they didn’t need to ask. As a girl, I have decided that I don’t care how weird or dumb I might seem. As a girl I just have the guts to stand up and say, ‘What’s going on?’ and in the end, because of piping in, I have learned how to make more friends who learn more like I do.”

Watson prides herself on doing what she loves and advocates that every woman should study what she loves. One stereotype that she faces is that everyone thinks of her as smarter because she studies STEM. She admits, “I can regretfully say, every women who hears that I am in a STEM program acts as though I am more high and mighty than she in that moment. I just hope that women understand that you are no less of a woman as a housewife or as a secretary; you are only less of a woman if you aren’t doing what you really want to do with your life…If you can persevere, and you like the subject, you will find a way to figure it out!” 

Another GREEN alumna Ella Chalkley who is a Mechanical Engineer at Virginia Tech reveals, “People might expect you to be less willing to get your hands dirty in hands-on situations, or less willing to participate in class because you feel insecure as a minority. Then there are the select few that even without spoken words make it obvious that they think differently (less) of you because you are a woman. I didn’t spend any time trying to change minds of the “select few”-these people aren’t worth time or energy. I have never hesitated to speak up and ask questions in class, and usually volunteered to go first in our few hands-on classes.” 

Despite the obvious challenges of being a woman in STEM, Chalkley turns the tables and mentions the flipside to gender discrimination. She says, “In many cases, you will stand out just because you are a woman. This is not something that should be taken advantage of or even be expected, but might inherently work to your benefit. The fact of the matter is that your professors are going to remember your face and your name much more easily when you are one of three women in an eighty-person class… This ‘flip-side’ is still at its core a result of negative discrimination and can often times be just as frustrating to witness in action, but when taken at face value can be positive and, hopefully helpful with professional networking.” 

Another GREEN Alumna, Kelly Jenkins, is a Mechanical Engineering graduate with an energy concentration at Rutgers University and is working toward a PhD in Nuclear Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Jenkins believes that the greatest challenge a woman could face in STEM is “the competitiveness and lack of support from other women in STEM. Every woman suffers through discrimination in the field, so there are times that the discrimination is considered ‘paying your dues.’”

Jenkins encourages supporting fellow women instead of tearing others down by saying, “Every day, women of ALL ages are being told that they can’t do something. Breaking stereotypes means that we need to empower women by redefining gender roles and not worrying about the opinions of others! Whether a woman wants to be an artist, a secretary, an entrepreneur, a waitress, a chef, a stay-at-home mom, a police officer, a scientist, or an engineer, it is her decision. I was told more times than I care to count, that I could not pursue a technical degree, let alone two, and forget going for a PhD! If there’s anything I could share to everyone (male or female) it is do what inspires you, and forget what the naysayers say!”

Océane Boulais, GREEN alumna and Electrical Engineering student at Florida Atlantic University, shares, “I am currently working on a stereotype that most women struggle with every day: that we must be over qualified if we want something (i.e. pay-raise, a new position). This stereotype is rooted in a lack of self-confidence passed unto us by society.” 

Clearly, ending stereotypes and the way young girls are socialized is necessary, affective immediately…but what’s the first step?

Boulais explains, “As much as I love interest groups and societies that focus on getting women in the industry and providing them special treatment through scholarships, fellowships, and internships – that is only the first step. Those opportunities are fantastic, but at the end of the day, they are crutches. The glass ceiling is cracking, but we are far from obliterating our societal limitations if we don’t continue pursuing those spots on the Executive Board tables at the same pace as everyone else.” 

After listening to her TED Talk, Saujani calls on her audience the way I will do now, “And so I need each of you to tell every young woman you know—your sister, your niece, your employee, your colleague—to be comfortable with imperfection, because when we teach girls to be imperfect, and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves for each and everyone of us.”

Read Another Article

Honoring Kate Slattery & Highlighting the Shine On Scholarship for Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, The GREEN Program is happy to highlight Kate Slattery – a mechanical engineer and photovoltaic designer for SolarCity who challenged herself and others to work toward a global mission of renewable energy and sustainability. We are honored to work with Kate’s family and GivePower to share Kate’s story and provide the Shine On Scholarship to TGP students in memory of Kate. 

read more

How an Online Sustainability Program Helped Jaedyn Medrano Become an Intersectional Sustainability Advocate

This blog features the virtual Nepal Ethics of Sustainable Development Alum, Jaedyn Medrano who says, “this program taught me how to think about a project holistically, and it has guided me along the path to being a better cultured and inclusive young professional.” She is set to graduate with a double major in Renewable Natural Resources & Ecological Restorations in December of 2022.

read more

Defending Reproductive Rights in the Battle for Climate Justice

Reproductive Justice is Climate Justice. The GREEN Program stands to defend the reproductive rights of all women and people who give birth to access safe reproductive health care. We must do more to educate others and understand the interconnection between Reproductive Justice and the Climate Crisis. It’s important to draw the connections between climate change, pollution, and reproductive rights.

read more

An International Graduate Student Embraces Nepali Culture by Studying Abroad through Shine On Scholarship

On one hand, I believe that every student should be given a chance to study abroad at least once in their life, because it teaches us things that textbooks cannot: adaptability, resilience, curiosity, empathy, just to name a few. Whether good or bad, bursting our bubble and learning about our world will inspire us and open our minds. On the other hand, the people we interact with benefit from the diversity, because all of us bring unique perspectives to the table. Perhaps we share an idea that no one has thought of but could be key to solving a problem; we fuel the aspirations of someone who is facing similar difficulties; or help take down stereotypes.  

read more

Remembering Juneteenth and the Fight for Environmental Justice

n June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. It is on this day every year since that we celebrate “Juneteenth” as the end of slavery in the United States. It is a day that we celebrate ancestors and leaders who fought to be liberated. We celebrate their power, resiliency, and tenacity. 

read more

LGBTQ+ Leaders and Organizations in Sustainability to Know About this Pride Month

The GREEN Program loves to celebrate love, and there is no better way to do that this month than by recognizing a few LGBTQ+ leaders and organizations that are making a difference not just in their own communities but for our planet altogether. Read below to learn more about some people and spaces that are working together to promote a better world that focuses on inclusion and equality.

read more

Meet 8 AAPI Leaders in Sustainability: Across the Globe and At Home

The month of May is known to many as the end of classes and the start of Summer, but May is also known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Our team at TGP wanted to take a moment to recognize the contributions and influence of AAPI Americans throughout history, culture, and achievements both on a global scale, and from those who are a bit close to home. We also encourage you to learn more about AAPI Heritage Month and get involved through additional resources.

read more

From a Start Up to a Sustainability Study Abroad Program: How Patrick Applied his Passion for Renewable Energy in Iceland

When Fall 2021 rolled around and I saw the TGP scholarship opportunity, I thought I’d apply not expecting much. When I found out that I actually got it, I was like “I guess I’m actually doing this!”. I was a little nervous and anxious but also so excited for the opportunity! I was also grateful that the enrollment process was very smooth for me with no significant challenges along the way.

read more

Boston University Student Gains a Unique Perspective for Renewable Energy & Sustainability by Studying Abroad in Iceland

Global experiences have definitely shaped me into the person I am today through increased cultural awareness and sensitivity. Getting to really know a great group of diverse individuals from all over the world has not only shaped my perspective on current world issues, but has also allowed me to take a glance at certain topics from another angle and point of view.

read more

A Construction Science Major Turns Lessons into Opportunity after a Sustainability Study Abroad Program 

AJ Ewing spent his past Winter Break a little bit differently than most students, by studying abroad on our GREEN Nepal program. As a Construction Science major, AJ notes that he was nervous coming into the study abroad program having no prior experience in sustainability or electrical/solar grids, but he was excited and eager to learn. As soon as he arrived, all his nerves were gone as he was welcomed by our team and ready to dive in. Now, he can honestly say that when he thinks of The GREEN Program, he thinks of “family away from home.”

read more

How a Geologist Made His Sustainability Dream in Iceland a Reality through a Study Abroad Scholarship

As someone who is in a field with a limited representation of ethnic minorities, TGP created a neutral ground where there was a range of diversity on different levels. My GREEN Program experience in Iceland wasn’t just about the adventures and cultural immersion, but about the education too. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures because I saw how passionate the different lecturers were about their work and research which is truly inspiring. As a geologist, learning more about the wonder that is Iceland in Iceland was definitely a dream come true.

read more

Get to Know GREENie: Maryam Aida Tidjani

Maryam Aida Tidjani got to experience a brand new kind of GREEN Program during the hard times the world was facing, a 100% Virtual and Online experience. Initially planning on traveling to Peru in 2021, the global pandemic continued to shift things around and we had to pivot all travel programs to Online experiences.

read more

Subscribe to The GREEN Program newsletter & updates

Skip to content