We like to pretend that gender inequality in the work place is only an issue that the cast of Mad Men have to deal with. While things have gotten much better since the 1950s, there is still a long way to go – especially in certain industries. STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are home to the fasted growing job markets in the world, and women are getting left in the dust when it comes to filling these positions. Personally, I don’t think this is an issue within the STEM industries, but an issue with gender roles that starts at an early age.
Media Portrayal of Women and Men
It’s old hat by this point, but media plays a profound role in how people view each other as well as themselves. Studies have shown that everyone is biased, even if they think they are well rounded. When it comes to race, people across the board struggle to associate minorities with good traits; when gender gets studied, people (including women) have a hard time associating success with women. So let’s apply this to STEM jobs.
The only strong female character that embodies that geeky persona (that I can think of) is Abby from NCIS, and even she is still somewhat of a goth sexpot. The stereotype has shifted from weak rolled women, to powerful and successful women characters like Mackenzie Allen in Commander in Chief, Sydney Bristow in Alias, and Max Guevara in Dark Angel just to name a few. These strong female leads are then paired up with their token male nerds who are never lacking glasses, collared shirts, and the occasional sweater vest. Even the “sexiest man alive,” Bradley Cooper, played this stereotype in Alias with his character Will Tippen.
This stigma of putting women in powerful roles and men in the nerdy ones has had real world consequences. There are more women than ever going to law schools and climbing the corporate ladders in managerial positions, but there is a stagnant number going into STEM jobs.
Breaking Down the Numbers
The U.S. Department of Commerce released this study in 2009 that documents the growth in STEM jobs over nine years and compares genders. You can see the numbers broken down in this table…
As you can see by looking at the percent of female workers in each area of STEM jobs, the growth was negligible, stagnant, or even reversed. This goes against other trends such as women accounting for half of the work force and making up for the majority of college graduates. Even so, with women making up the majority of college graduates, women only make up 20% of the computer science degrees. While you don’t need a computer science degree to go into a STEM job, this disparity mirrors the one in the job market and it highlights the bigger problem referenced above. There are simply very few women, comparatively, actively looking for STEM jobs.
It’s not a matter of consciously sexist employers throughout the industry, there are just no women applying for the positions that are becoming available. For this to change, we need to see a shift in how society views the nerds among us. More girls need to go to hacker camps and be shown that it’s okay for girls to be computer nerds to.