I am a math major at Western Carolina University. The concentration of my major is traditional, not data science, not actuarial, not education. People [tend to] assume that since I am a woman and a math major, I must be going into education. While there is nothing wrong with going into education, I’m not. I have great respect for those in and going into education as my mother has been a teacher all my life.
There is a large gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. As of 2019, women made up only 27% of the STEM workforce and the rates of women in STEM classes and majors at colleges and universities tend to be lower.
This shocked me. I knew the gender gap in STEM existed but I didn’t think it was that drastic. This made me look at my current math classes. Out of the 3 math classes I’m taking, the percentage of female students in my classes were 20%, 22%, and 33%, including myself.
There are a few main factors for this gender gap in STEM: stereotypes and confidence and a lack of representation.
Many people believe that STEM fields are more masculine and too hard for women. This stereotype is not uncommon and can start in grade school. This can lead to girls having less confidence in themselves and their abilities. Girls’ abilities in STEM are also more likely to be underestimated, which can have a detrimental effect on their confidence.
A solution to this is encouraging girls to continue in STEM and helping them get involved in clubs and organizations for girls in STEM. One organization, Women in STEM, is aimed at “empowering and encouraging high school girls to be a part of the movement to increase female representation in STEM.” At Western Carolina University, there is a club called Fem in Stem whose purpose is to connect female STEM majors with each other.
In regards to the lack of representation of women in STEM, if you don’t see someone who looks like you in a certain position/job/title, then you are less likely to believe that you can do the same. In my experience, I’m not sure I would still be a math major if not for all of the female math teachers. Without knowing it, they encouraged me to stick with it.
A possible solution would be having pictures of women in STEM and recognizing women’s achievements as this can encourage girls that they too belong in STEM.
I have always loved math, even when it is difficult and I don’t understand what I’m doing. In part, because I know when I do understand it, the “pay off” is even better and fuels my love for math.
If there is a girl or young woman in your life who likes STEM, encourage them. While progress has been made, more progress is needed, especially since most women aren’t in STEM after high school. If you want to see her continue to love STEM, encouragement
I am extremely thankful to all of the wonderful math teachers and professors I’ve had, especially those who are women. Without knowing it, they all gave me someone to look up to. I was able to see them do [the] math and it encouraged me to learn how to do it too.
Erin Bowden is a current WCU student. She is not employed or reimbursed by the Western Carolinian for this article. Her opinions are not direct representations of the Western Carolinian or WCU.