STEM, otherwise known as science, technology, engineering and math, have always had a reputation for lacking in women. These specific fields have always attracted and retained more boys and men than girls and women. The unfortunate fact is that the situation is not really improving and in many cases, it is getting worse.
According to the Higher Education Authoritys new entrant figures, ten years ago 47% of new entrants into science, maths and computing courses at university level were women. By 2013 that proportion had fallen to 40%. In the same year there were just 436 female entrants into computer science at university level out of a total of 2,613, or 16%.
Less than 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women and in the US, the number of female entrants to computer science is still going down.
In the 1970s, more females had the opportunity to go to college in the US, so female entrants to law, medicine, the physical sciences and computer sciences rose exponentially. Then, in the mid-1980s, entrants to computer science courses hit an all time high briefly before plummeting. Other areas continued to attract females except for computer science.
So why is this happening? What is the problem? Why are the numbers of women entering science going down rather than up?
A 2014 Accenture survey commissioned by the Women Invent Tomorrow campaign found the problem is a societal one.
Teenage girls see stem subjects as being for boys. Part of this stems from parental influence. It appears that parents of girls often do not consider Stem careers when advising their daughters. The survey found parents, while very influential in their daughters decisions about courses, were ill-informed about Stem career paths.
Above all there is still an issue with visibility of female role models. We cant keep rolling out the Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers. There are countless remarkable female role models out there, but the media tends to use the same names as if there were only a handful. If we wish to make these careers appealing to young girls and women, they need to be made aware of the exciting career possibilities, and the remarkable women who have gone before them.
Profesor Christine Loscher, director of Dublin City Universitys Health Technologies Research and Enterprise Hub, believes the modernization of the Internet may have something to do with it.
I do think that teens today are living in a world where image is more important than it has ever been. With social media, Instagram, Twitter and so on, there is so much emphasis on how they look and what theyre doing image is such a part of who they are Stem subjects just arent seen as very glamorous.
Stem courses have traditionally catered for male students so teaching techniques that have developed may not be best suited to females.
Dr. Shannon Chance is a Marie Curie Research Fellow based in DIT. Her research explores how to make engineering education more effective for women and minority students. Interactive techniques, such as problem-based learning, are more supportive of female students than lecture-type situations.
We know from student development theory that women learn differently. They learn in interconnected ways and in interpersonal ways, so they like to know how what they are learning relates to other information, and they like learning with other people.
Research also shows creativity is important to women. In parts of the world, such as Denmark, where there is some gender balance in engineering, the fields that are proving attractive to women are those seen as having potential for creativity.
Women face other difficulties other than external ones in the workplace. Their own mindset can be a deterrent to what could be a great career.
I think its in our nature as women to put huge pressure on ourselves to be perfect. If a woman sees a job being advertised and she meets eight out of 10 requirements, she is likely to go away and work at meeting the other two requirements rather than applying there and then. A man may only have four of the 10 requirements, but he is much more likely to put himself forward. Its a different mindset. I think that women who realize this can actually be quite strategic about when they put themselves forward and actually end up progressing quite quickly.