Women seeking a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are many times challenged by traditional gender role stereotypes.
Kari Sanford, 20, an engineering management student at Arizona State University said females in the area of STEM face unique challenges as the presence of females in STEM is low in numbers and there is an existence of many inaccurate “perceptions from peers and women in STEM careers in general.”
Sanford said a classmate once claimed that she had only made it as far as she had because of her “feminine charm.” It is the “little things like that” which can make the experience difficult, she added.
Olivia Brancati, a civil engineer at Black and Veatch said there is most definitely a higher ratio of males to females in the engineering field. Brancati said during her time as an undergraduate she recalled a science class in which she “counted about eight girls.”
Brancati said a common misconception for the sector of engineering is that it only includes robotics and software. Engineering “can be dry” but there are a variety of aspects to it, Brancati said. I chose civil engineering because it focuses on serving the public and allows for one to truly see the impact in their community, she added.
In order to improve the area of women in STEM there needs to be a focus on creating a comfortable and effective environment at the university level, Brancati said. An increase in the number of female engineering professors can assist in shifting stereotypes as they are able to “set the tone in the classroom,” she added.
Although getting girls excited about engineering at a young age is important, it is becoming common to paint youth engineering as only robotics and “playing with Legos,” Brancati said. Moreover, people may stereotype girls who seek engineering careers as not “girly,” she added.
Brancati said encouraging girls to explore STEM at an early age is critical but that does not mean they should be pressured into anything specific. As a young girl “I wore bows every day and my favorite color was pink,” Brancati said. The stereotype of playing with Legos was not necessary, as she is currently an engineer, she added.
Sanford said there are many diverse options for girls to get involved in STEM and a very common one is through coding. Summer camps or local libraries can provide girls with opportunities to test different STEM fields, she added. Sanford grew to love engineering through a high school robotics program.
Hadley Griffin, a 20-year-old computer science student at Arizona State University said she chose to pursue a career in STEM as she has “always loved math” it was something that came very naturally.
Griffin said our culture and society can play a big role in the involvement of women in STEM. Many “figureheads of technology” companies are male, which may be “discouraging to women.” In a class taken last fall the ratio of males to females was eleven to one, Griffin said. “This was wild to me,” she added.
“There needs to be a strong core, Sanford said. An increase of strong role models for women in STEM would be very beneficial, she added
Regardless, Griffin said she is definitely not complaining because while some might see numbers as a setback, she sees it as “an opportunity to stand out,” “While the guy to girl ratio may be vastly different within my classes, I still always feel like an equal, Griffin said. She has had various classmates reach out to receive “a female perspective,” she added.