While STEM education in North America is catching on more each and every year, there remains a sizeable gender gap. Evidenced by countless studies and documented research projects, STEM careers are still primarily male-dominated. The skills and valuable contributions female intellectuals can introduce to society have been faced with stubbornness and nervousness from a male-dominated economy fearful of rapid change, and in order to recognize the importance of creating gender parity, first we must observe the statistics and understand how large this gap is. It is a problem that cannot be ignored any longer.
A History of Imbalance
For thousands of years, there has remained a gender imbalance in careers pertaining to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Until the mid-1910s, females didn’t even have the right to vote in many countries. In the Atomic Age, for example, women were “marketed” and encouraged to serve as homemakers and custodians of their high earning STEM-specialized significant others. The feminist revolution of the 1970s shifted these misconceptions to the point where it was recognized that females with STEM skills were valuable members of society that deserved to be treated as such, however. Since then, opportunities available to both genders in higher education have become increasingly similar to one another in most advanced economies. For example, Canada now has more women than men enrolled in post-secondary education (yet there is still a gender gap in terms of STEM specific education). It is a well-known fact that women, even to this day, simply aren’t paid as much as men for their equal contributions even in STEM, and this has soured the general perception of it forming viable career paths for females. Various groups such as the STEM Gender Equality Congress (SGEC), National Girls Collaborative Project, National Math and Science Initiative, and Women in Engineering Proactive Network are among many others working hard to narrow the gap and create gender parity through awareness and educating the public, businesses, and various industries utilizing STEM careers.
Higher STEM Attach Rate, Yet Gender Gap Remains
The 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey revealed that, as of 2011, 15% of Ottawa-area residents were STEM graduates and possessed a certificate, diploma, or degree in a relevant field. There is gender parity in science-based careers, but engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences remain heavily male-dominated. Of those Ottawa post-secondary graduates, only 27% were female. This remains the same situation across not just Canada, but North America. Boiling down this data to its essence, it demonstrates that STEM careers are the recipients of a far higher attach rate than several years ago, but the gender gap remains firmly in place despite an influx of sharp new minds earning qualifications suitable for STEM careers.
Evidenced by this study indicating that North America is now the lowest-performing region as the economic gender gap has only increased by 1% since 2006, the replacement of older-generation workers with younger minds is making little difference in achieving gender parity in STEM careers. Society must further standardize support of STEM skills for both men and women, creating balanced working environments with equal consideration to capabilities of skilled workers regardless of gender. This can be achieved by educating youth on STEM at earlier ages, emphasizing and presenting strong support for males and females to shift away from the general consensus of STEM careers as a form of employment more suited to men. As more girls become inspired by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-based learning and educated on the possibilities available to them, we may see a spike in intellectual adult females entering the STEM workforce, shattering established general misconceptions.
The best we can do, collectively, do combat the STEM gender gap and create parity is to educate, raise awareness of the issue, and lobby for change through shifting away from societal norms. By moving past misconceptions and establishing the importance of women and men in STEM careers, we can move more quickly towards a prosperous and efficient future.