The Missing Women in STEM: Discussion

Women in STEM held a small conference in Glasgow University on International Women’s day delving into the topic as to why more women aren’t employed in high earning areas of STEM jobs. With several guest speakers all from different branches of STEM topics (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) answering questions posed by both the organisers and audience.

Main areas of discussion circled around societal behaviours and expectations placed on genders at a young age and how this may affect their progression into STEM subjects, the most popular topic being gender specific toys. A common debate when exploring how differing stereotypical behaviours arise, the concept of “girly” toys catering more for the supposed innate maternal instincts rather than practical or logical construction was theorised to be the main societal block preventing more young women from working in science. Branching from this discussion, the potential condescending nature of pink lego or pink calculators were also debated – some being adamant that simply changing the colour of a product was not necessary to attract girls while others seemed to think that some young girls would never have found themselves interested in maths if it wasn’t for their pink-themed equipment.  

The controversy of the “Pretty Curious” campaign – an inventive engineering competition directed at young girls which a boy ended up winning – was also brought into question. Some on the committee thought it highly damaging to have a boy win a competition that was conceived to boost the confidence of young mechanically-driven girls, fearing this loss may drive many to feel deflated and, once again, driven away from a generally male-dominated industry. Other committee members questioned the ethics of gender biased competitions, pondering if exclusion, no matter how positively driven, is really fair. The general conclusion was a hope that gender could be taken out of the equation so that when women do succeed on a level playing field in STEM research, it will be purely down to their expertise, and no one can simply wave their success away with meaningless excuses of gender favouritism.

As interesting as the topics discussed were, the panel format seemed a little lacking and unenticing with their points. Sticking mainly to why young girls may shy away from STEM subjects was a good place to start though it was unfortunate there was not more time for discussion to fully progress into the workplace gender barriers (only lightly touching upon sexual harassment and lack of support for mothers with childcare at the end). However WiSTEM is a new society to the university, and plans for future talks were teased, so perhaps the next talk will have a more invigorating debate and detailed exploration into this important topic, hopefully even touching upon how we, as a community, can strive to bring about change faster.

[Michaela Barton]

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