In recent decades, progress has been made to ensure that women have access to higher education and other academic opportunities. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse, the nonprofit research group, shows that 65% of women who enrolled in college in 2012 had earned a college diploma by 2018, compared to only 59% of men. Even though women have achieved higher education in record numbers within the last 40 years, they are still largely underrepresented in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), especially in degree earning programs at universities.
As Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space, once noted, “Women have been the backbone of space exploration since the industry was first established … More female representation is needed, even in our current space industry, their impact has proved significant in the sector.”
The work women have done across various areas in the STEM field has been invaluable. Ensuring that women have access to STEM education will not only help shrink the gender gap, but will give women economic security and the ability to prevent these fields from developing biased technology and scientific innovations.
Here are some ways STEM education can advance gender equality.
Encourage Girls to Pursue STEM at a Young Age So That They Will Be Prepared for Academic and Career Paths
Research also shown that girls tend to lose confidence in their math abilities at a younger age than boys. Girls seem to be pushed away from developing an interest in science and math rather than encouraged to do so. Instead, parents and teachers should give girls the tools and confidence to succeed in their math and science classes.
Girls should also be able to foster their curiosity and interest in math and science. Programs like science fairs, robotics, or coding camps can help girls get hands-on learning experiences and explore different STEM fields.
Dylan Taylor believes that it’s critical for younger generations like Gen-Z to be introduced to STEM education from an early age because “their understanding of what opportunities exist is influenced by what they were offered in their formative years.”
Similarly, if young girls are offered support to discover the STEM-related activities they’d like to take part in or to challenge themselves in their math and science classes, they will be better prepared to pursue academic and career paths in the STEM field.
Providing More Opportunities for Women to Major in STEM Programs in College Can Narrow the Gender Gap
In 2020, women represented 45% of students majoring in STEM fields, up from 40% in 2010 and 34% in 1994, according to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). However, women are still more likely to major in social and behavioral sciences and non-STEM fields as opposed to majoring in math, computer science, engineering, science, and technology. This continues to contribute to the gender gap, where the impacts are felt most in the workforce.
Colleges and universities can work to support and retain women interested in STEM majors and fields by funding their studies through scholarships and grants. This will allow women to have the accessibility to participate in study labs, research programs, and internships where they can learn more about the specific STEM field they are interested in and make connections for possible employment opportunities.
STEM departments at colleges and universities should prioritize a welcoming, inclusive, and respectful environment where women can not only thrive in their studies but gain leadership experience, collaborate with other peers and seek mentorship from trusted faculty. Additionally, STEM spaces in academic settings should have sexual harassment and safety protocols so that women remain in STEM programs and achieve higher education.
Bringing women into STEM fields will not only improve the quality of work and scientific advancements being conducted but can open many career paths and opportunities that will support economic advancement and advance gender equality.
As Dylan Taylor has put it, “Seeing women at the forefront of recent missions can inspire more of today’s girls to study STEM subjects and boost diversity in the space sector.”