Imagine a tech community where over 35% of computer science majors are women. New tech companies are flourishing and radical social movements still influence counterculture. Welcome to 1985.
Today, there’s a big push to encourage women to enter the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. From summer boot camps to teach women how to code, to offering scholarships designed to draw more women to the engineering field, it’s evident that people want to clear up the gender disparity in a growing job sector. Women are entering the biological sciences at an increasing rate, and girls are certainly considering other aspects of the STEM field as viable job options.
Despite these promising changes, it begs the question of how much has truly changed in the 30 years since we hit the record high of women majoring in computer science. It’s dubious that half the world’s population is not interested in mechanical engineering or chemistry. Surely, some women also have brilliant, creative ideas about solving big problems, just as some are also talented in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
It’s not as if there was a push throughout the 90s and early 2000s to keep women out of the tech sector. However, a couple of issues with the way that girls are taught from an early age to think about what their gender means in terms of what they’re capable of learning. A recent study examined how girls and boys performed on a math test when a subjective and objective set of teachers did and did not know who took the test. The students’ teachers, who graded the tests knowingly, graded slightly harsher on girls’ tests than the objective teachers did. Furthermore, when the same set of students were approached in secondary school, it seemed as if the repetition of this act over time reinforced the idea that boys learned and applied math better than girls could. Such a study might correlate with a prevailing cultural attitude in primary schools that men are best suited to the technical field, while women are best suited for communications and arts.
Of course, teaching styles differ from classroom to classroom, and times change. However, when looking at how many women currently working in the STEM field are byproducts of an early 80s education compared to now, a few things have changed. According to NPR, it seems to correlate with when modern technology became commonplace in the home, and how it was marketed mostly for males. As time went on, it became assumed that people with an interest in pursuing sciences have a thorough foundation in what goes on in an introductory class, which deterred many when they found it difficult to keep up.
While it could be argued that they could simply work harder, that negates the psychological effect of coming into a situation where people who had the resources and were influenced to reach for the stars would constantly one-up people who did not. As seen in the marketing, this likely was not only limiting to women, but also to low-income individuals who did not have the opportunities to do something similar. If it continues today, then it could snowball into an even larger problem concerning and interweaving gender, class, and race.
What will happen if we reexamine how many women are studying and pursuing careers in STEM 30 years later? Will we see the same questionable disparity? And if so, why haven’t things changed? Is there something truly keeping women from succeeding? Truthfully, probably not. And we need to try.
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