Another area of diversity that is often spoken of is that of women in STEM. Given the feminist media slant, one would assume that entry into STEM is somewhat of a David (women) and Goliath (men) battle. The statistics create a different picture, as do testimonies from women in STEM. One problem lies in the classification of what exactly STEM is, due to the fact that it is an appellation for a very diverse group of fields with specific areas to which males and females tend to naturally gravitate. Catalyst, a website showing statistics for women in STEM provides insight into this matter. In the case of Canada, the feminist world view is seemingly upheld as the female participation in STEM stands at a total of 37.8%.
A closer look at the specific fields will show that women dominate Science and science technology at 56.9%. In Australia the Natural and Physical sciences are dominated by women at 53.6%. Women in India earned over half of undergraduate degrees in both information technology and computer (50.7%) and science (54.1%) fields. In the European Union, women made up 54.8% of those with undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics degrees. In the Unites States, the STEM fields of Biological and Biomedical Sciences are dominated by women on every level of education with bachelors at 62.2%, masters at 59.1%, and PhDs at 53.4%. For the sake of equality then, should these female dominated fields be restricted so as to allow less females and make it more equitable for males who wish to enter? Using the theories of the DEI movement that is exactly what would be done, resulting in a great disservice to society by removing highly qualified women from an area in which they excel. This illustrates the irony of equal application of arbitrary diversity quotas. An artificial quota system is not the correct methodology for encouraging more women to enter this specific field, nor should a hypothetical Utopian 50/50 representation in a field be viewed as desirable.
As Prof. Jordan Peterson has pointed out, research shows that the more egalitarian a country becomes the greater the male and female gap becomes since people feel free to choose to study for field and occupations that interest them, this research is not an isolated study but includes thousands of participants over numerous years. The afore mentioned Catalyst inadvertently proves this point with its own statistics showing regions with less egalitarian policies to have more women in STEM namely “Central Asia (48.2%), Latin American and the Caribbean (45.1%), the Arab States (41.5%), and Central and Eastern Europe (39.3%)”.
For this article five scientists in the fields of computer science, data systems and virology, who also happen to be women from various ethnic backgrounds were asked about their experiences in the STEM field and if they had felt held back by men both in terms of study and of career progression. Among the questions asked was if lowering the bar would be a positive move to encourage more to enter. All of the scientists answered that the lowering of the bar would imply that women were not as capable as men in studying STEM subjects and that it implied covert sexism. A computer scientist who shall be called JL noted the following “Frankly, I think it’s incredibly condescending and an insult to the intelligence of every self-respecting woman who actually earned their way to a STEM career with pure grit, hard work and smarts. If anything it only exacerbates the prevailing stereotype that women are intellectually inferior to men. And by trying to make STEM ‘sexier’ end up attracting those who want to be in the field for all the wrong reasons.” and “I have encountered deliberately spiteful language from more female than male colleagues. E.g. ‘You have no right to use this room’, ‘You just don’t make sense blah blah blah...’”.
Although all noted individual men who had bad traits, none of the scientists noted that men in general had held them back, three noting that they had had more opposition from women especially in the workplace and that men had been more empathetic and helpful mentors both during university and in their careers. The computer scientist went on to state that while there were men who behaved badly, that this was the problem of that individual and not men, she says “If anything some of the best and most honest bosses and co-workers I have worked with have been men.”
Senior Scientist and Virologist, Dr. Mary Hauser notes that as gender is irrelevant in the pursuit of science, the academic aim of being a scientist is just that, to be a scientist. She states “I am proud of becoming a scientist not a woman scientist.” The scientists did however state that the difficulties face by male and females had differences, which was to be expected as sex difference will impact on behaviours and relationship dynamics. When Dr. Hauser was plainly asked if she had encountered more difficulties from men or women in her STEM career she replied “Interesting question. The answer will be skewed because I have encountered a less total number of women than men in STEM. The only discrimination I receive is for speaking out or challenging ideas from superiors. That has only occurred in industry, in my academic training challenge of ideas was encouraged.”
JL commented saying “No. STEM is an incredibly difficult field to get into for ANYONE - male or female. Having a ‘privileged’ background will not help - this is neither social media nor Marketing and Sales. Anyone not rigorous enough in critical thinking AND the humility to acknowledge that they might be wrong sometimes in order to adapt to the situation at hand will not last long here”.
A software engineer noted that men were supportive both in university and in the workplace, she went on to express how a female co-worker with less skill had made it her personal aim to undo all her hard work. Not only ruining work itself but creating an unpleasant atmosphere that male scientists found difficult to handle. Hence, its seems women’s greatest obstacle in STEM may in some cases unfortunately be other women not the long standing trope of men being the culprits.
So is the issue really that there is a "patriarchy" blocking the way into STEM for women OR are there multiple factors including STEM field choice that impact on the intake of women? It would appear that women who are serious scientists aren't letting themselves be held back but getting on with serious research.
Alaric Naudé is a professor specialising in education, linguistics and social science. He is widely recognised as having a great face for radio.