The growing gender gap at Oak Park High School in STEM

There is a prominent issue of lack of women in the field; why should we care?

Art+by%3A+Priya+Harry

Art by: Priya Harry

Megan McCoy, Features Editor

The well-known field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), is a largely male-dominated field. But what impact does this have on not only OPHS girls, but women around the world?

One may believe that women do not enter the STEM field because of a lack of academic ability, but extensive data shows this is not the case. 

“Despite female students actually achieving results on par with those of their male counterparts in math and science courses, many girls propel away from the science and engineering courses at the undergraduate level,” Gabrielle Chan, Educator at The HEAD Foundation, said.

If women have the same intelligence and capabilities as men, why don’t more women go into the field? There are confounding factors contributing to this issue. External elements, cultural exclusions and stereotypes all discourage capable and intelligent women from entering or pursuing the field.There is also proof that the gap between men and women in the field may stem from early education exposure

Even OPHS struggles with a gender gap in STEM. In Intro to Computer Programming (9-12), there are seven girls and 20 boys, almost three times as many boys as girls. In Digital Electronics, there are six girls and 16 boys, once again a 37.5% gender gap. This issue is prominent, and if you don’t believe it, walk into a high school engineering class.

Sophie Picard is one of the six girls in Digital Electronics who states that “women are often underestimated, and walking into a class full of men can be intimidating, but that should not let women stop them from pursuing their interests,” she wrote.

STEM has been on an upward curve in popularity. In the past three decades, employment in this field has grown by 79%. However, 73% of the workforce in STEM fields consists of men, and 27% of women. 

The reality is that women in STEM careers bring important knowledge, skill sets, and ideas to engineering businesses, and it’s smart for companies to foster gender equality and diversity in their hiring practices,” Industry Expertise wrote.

The lack of women in STEM “is a multifaceted issue that starts from when girls are treated growing up and is an issue when women reach the workplace. How a woman should live her life has been deeply rooted in culture and our society,” Austin Lippincott, OPHS Physics and Engineering teacher wrote.

From the very beginning, stereotypes and cultural standards are pushed on little girls to enforce certain conduct and control the interests they can pursue. Even if a little girl wants to try coding or aerodynamics, she might be discouraged by peers and mentors, who see those fields as meant for boys.

“The other issue is discouragement. As women who are passionate about STEM grow up and try to pursue their interests, there are so many things knocking them down and discouraging them,” wrote Lippincott. 

Lippincott often notices that in his male-dominant classes the boys feel more empowered to answer questions that often drown out the voices of the few girls.   

“In high school STEM classes, girls are already in the minority, and asking questions already makes them stick out all the more,” he wrote. 

Prospects for women to excel at STEM in college are also discouraging. College is a time for discovery, change and self-exploration. It’s a catalyst for new ideas and unimaginable opportunities. However, even in higher education, the gender gap in the STEM field is still noticeable.

Anusha Rao, a OPHS alumna, who is currently studying computer engineering at UCSD notices some changes. “I definitely see some differences and similarities between high school and college engineering classes. The biggest difference is that while the male-to-female ratio is still relatively low, class sizes are larger, meaning I see more women in my classes. While we are still a minority group, it is easier to create a community. There are also a lot of programs designed to get women into STEM fields that are usually male-dominated. Clubs such as SWE and WIC also aid in both the career opportunity and community building aspects.” 

It’s time to bridge the gap and explore the opportunities that are available to you. In order to break the cycle, we need to begin putting ourselves in situations where we belong; there’s no time for intimidation.  If you are interested in STEM, there are many resources such as Girls Who Code or STEM Like a Girl. If those don’t interest you, there are some inclusive clubs such as SWENext that welcome women engineers with open arms. Don’t be afraid, go get ‘em!