There have been low levels of enrollment of women in science, math, and engineering fields of study for an extended period in history to the extent that these fields have been considered to belong to men. This emanates from the precedent number of men in these fields of study, which is far much higher compared to the number of women who pursue courses or careers in these fields of study (Phipps 125).
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One question that comes out here concerns whether these fields of study are hard for women to pursue or whether this is part of the gender mainstreaming debate where women are made to believe that it is only men who can prosper in math, science, and engineering related studies.
This paper explores the subject of women enrollment and progress in the field of math, science, and engineering in North America, especially the United States. Of critical essence in the paper is bringing out the challenges and opportunities that are presented to women as it appertains to their enrollment and progress in these study fields.
The paper assesses the structures of the society; the legal system, the norms of the society, and practices in the professional realms and their impact on women enrollment and success in science, math, and engineering.
The paper also suggests some strategies that can be deployed in society to encourage the pursuance of science related courses by women. The paper argues that the elimination of gender barriers remains to be one of the key drivers for women deployment and progress in science, math, and engineering fields in society.
Understanding women progress in science, math, and engineering
As noted in the introduction, women have been highly isolated when it comes to the advancement of individual careers in the fields of science, math, and engineering. Whether science, mathematics, and engineering subjects are hard for women is an issue that has continued to trigger research.
A deeper look at the involvement of women in these fields of the study reveals that social impediments have been playing a critical role in barring women from taking up the challenge and pursuing careers in these fields like men have been doing over the years (Long 29).
Currently, the number of men who are pursuing careers in these fields of study is far much higher when compared to the number of women. It is, however, important to note that the number of women who are enrolling in these fields is significantly rising, especially in the developed world like North America where social impediments are far much limited compared to the developing regions of the world.
According to Long (103-104), the representation of women in the job market, especially in the jobs that require skills and competencies in science and engineering, is quite low across all sectors of employment.
This observation is an extension of the earlier observation that the number of women who pursue science, math, and engineering related careers is quite low. Though women might be represented in these careers, the number of women who pursue these careers to the fullest is also minimal compared to the number of men who pursue careers in these fields to the fullest; Ph.D. level in this case.
Also, women seem to be less involved in practically oriented environments like the industry, even when they pursue careers in these fields of study because most of them are retained in the academic field. Perception also comes out a critical factor and determinant for the active participation of women in engineering and pure sciences (Long 104).
Progress of women in science, math, and engineering in North America; the United States
Mills, Ayre, and Gill (18-19) observed that different countries had set their standards for the qualification of people who want to become engineers. Similarly, standards have been put in place to determine the qualification of people in the field of science like medicine, among others. In the United States, a person only qualifies to be an engineer after successfully accomplishing a four-year degree course in engineering.
Over the years, the number of females who have been graduating in institutions of higher learning in the United States with qualifications in the fields of science and engineering has been on the rise. However, this does not mean that the United States is the leading country in the world in terms of women enrollment and progress in engineering, science, and mathematics.
There are several other industrialized and newly industrialized economies across the world where there are more women enrollment and success in science, math, and engineering (Mills, Ayre and Gill 21-23).
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It is important to note that the fields of science and engineering are further subdivided into other subfields. In North America, the increased participation and progress of women in science and engineering is notable in certain subfields like computer science, chemical engineering, chemistry, and biological sciences, among others.
However, the participation of women in certain subfields like architectural engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, medicine, and other scientific fields like nuclear science is still relatively low (Didion, Frehill and Pearson Jnr. 75).
According to Lincoln et al. (307), a study of the awards and prizes that were offered in the United States between 1990 and 2000 points to more nomination of men compared to women. However, the number of women who have won the price has been increasing. Lincoln et al. (307) observe there are higher prospects of bias in the committees that are involved in the nomination of people who have made progress in the STEM disciplines in the United States.
These committees are still highly guided by the perception that men make more progress in the field of science, technology, engineering, and medicine compared to women. What comes out here is that women are largely underrated when it comes to the pursuance of careers in science and engineering.
This comes from perception and long-held beliefs that, in turn, continue to lower the participation and progress of women in science and engineering in the United States. In what Lincoln et al. (308) refer to as the ghettoization of women, the social factors that emanate from society continue to justify the underrepresentation of women in the science and engineering careers.
Aspects of socialization and societal perceptions have continued to work negatively when it comes to the opening up women and encouraging their enrollment and pursuance of science and engineering careers.
An example that suits this observation is the sentiments that were raised by Lawrence H. Summers, the President of Harvard University in 2005. In his speech, Summers argued that women were more reluctant and less committed when it came to the pursuance of studies in the fields of science and engineering. Summers further argued that women had a low aptitude for math and science compared to men.
However, the most critical point in his speech was that social factors and gender discrimination were playing a vital role in limiting the enrollment and progress of women in science, engineering, and math disciplines.
In what seemed to invigorate activism on the gender lines, the argument that women had a lesser aptitude for math and science, the speech was subjected to radical criticism across the country, with calls of resignation being voiced out from the critics. Summers later made an apology for making such sentiments (Byko para. 4-7).
Such sentiments from a person who is bestowed with the responsibility of promoting gender fairness in the field of education is an indicator of how the general society still treats the issue of women enrollment and progress in math, science, and engineering.
Science, engineering, and math are disciplines that require commitment and concentration of people who are pursuing them. Hitches still lie in the way, in spite of the drive to offer women more relief from the family tasks. More women still get less time compared to men in the United States.
However, the encouraging fact is that most males within institutions in the United States have aligned with the fact that women can equally progress in the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics, provided that they are given equal attention as men in these institutions and the society at large.
Nonetheless, women themselves still portray fear even when they are given the attention and support by the men, a factor that implies the need to work on the psychological and social attributes of women to make them more confident and more active in science, engineering and math disciplines (Byko para. 18-22).
With research denoting fewer numbers of women enrollment and progress in STEM, the United States government, together with other players in the private sector has been active in terms of the development of programs that can support women so that they can advance in STEM disciplines.
The United States National Science Foundation was established and has been up to the task when it comes to the identification of the gaps that exist in the education sector and the society as a whole when it comes to women enrollment and progress in STEM disciplines (Nielsen et al. 1-4).
According to Cornell University Law School (1-2), several legal advancements, among them the establishment of the United States National Science Foundation and the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development were advanced in the United States to help in devising a desirable framework for complete inclusion of women in science and engineering disciplines.
Most of the strategies that are enhanced by these institutions focus on expanding the enrollment of women in STEM disciplines at the academic level and their incorporation in the workforce after the completion of their studies to steer their experience and competitiveness in these disciplines in the wider American society. This observation comes from the assessment of the policies and programs that are crafted by these organizations.
The other thing that is notable in the subjects of women’s progress in the fields of science, math, and engineering are the variations in the racial patterns when it comes to the involvement of women in these disciplines. The colored women are widely underrepresented in these disciplines compared to white women. This is evident in the contemporary trends of women’s involvement in the STEM across the entire sector of education in the United States.
Women in the STEM field of study are not just undermined on the gender basis, but also a racial basis. This denotes the complexity of encouraging the progress of women in these disciplines.
However, remarkable progress has been made with time, especially in the contemporary American Society where the presence of many external challenges has resulted in the fight against most of the aspects of diversity to unify the society against the challenges (Bernstein and Woods para. 1-10).
Recommended strategies for increasing women progress in science, engineering, and math
It is apparent that masculinity has dominated the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering to the extent that women are seen to be on the periphery in as far as progress in these fields of study is concerned. Therefore, it is worthwhile to argue that the presentation of the fields of science and engineering as male-dominated shapes the perception of women about these fields.
An example that can be given here is that most texts on the science and engineering curricula use masculine examples to expound on concepts, besides most of them are authored by men. What needs to be done here is the reduction of male bias and dominance in the fields by increasing support for women through the increased publishing of the works and inventions done by women in the fields (Mills, Ayre and Gill 13-14).
Doing that is leeway to the attraction and change of perceptions of most women, thereby encouraging women’s progress in science and engineering. Therefore, women have to be supported from within the workforce in the STEM discipline and within the academic institutions where the qualifications, skills, and competencies in these disciplines are acquired.
Women’s activism has been promoted in North America for a long duration. However, the most important thing to note in the contemporary forms of activism is that they focus on specific issues such as the low number of women in the fields of science, engineering, and technology (SET). The poor state of women’s progress in the field of SET is seen as a factor that promotes gender mainstreaming.
Therefore, activism has to shift from the debates to the structuring of the policy environment and the embrace of real practices like the reward and support for women who pursue careers in SET (Phipps 125-127). According to Nielsen et al. (1), the progress of women in the field of science needs strategic intervention, which should begin at the institutional level and trickle down to society.
Now that the numbers of women who are enrolled in the field are quite low, with perception playing down on a possible massive rise in the number of women in STEM disciplines, a change in policy and structures in the academic institutions has to be fostered to prepare and encourage women to enroll in these disciplines.
These interventions have to be implemented at all levels of academic institutions to encourage incremental progress of women in science, math, and engineering disciplines in the society. However, it is critical to pay attention to the issue of quality to avoid thwarting the whole issue of women’s progress in STEM.
Bernstein, Michael, and Michael Woods. Minority Women Still Most Underrepresented In Science Despite Progress. 2012. Web.
Byko, Maureen. Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Science and Engineering. 2005. Web.
Cornell University Law School. 42 USC § 1885a – Women in Science and Engineering; Support of Activities by Foundation for Promotion, etc. 2012. Web.
Didion, Catherine, Lisa M. Frehill, and Willie Pearson Jnr. Blueprint for the Future: Framing the Issues of Women in Science in a Global Context. Washington D. C: The National Academic Press, 2012. Print.
Lincoln, Anne E., Stephanie Pincus, Janet Bandows Koster, and Phoebe S. Leboy. “The Matilda Effect In Science: Awards And Prizes In The US, 1990S And 2000S.” Social Studies Of Science 42.2 (2012): 307-320. Print.
Long, Scott J. From Scarcity to Visibility: Gender Differences in the Careers of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers. Washington, D. C: The National Academy Press, 2001. Print.
Mills, Julie, Mary Elizabeth Ayre, and Judith Gill. Gender Inclusive Engineering Education. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Nielsen, Joyce McCarl, Robyn Marschke, Elisabeth Shelf, and Patricia Rankin. “Vital Variables And Gender Equity In Academe: Confessions From A Feminist Empiricist Project.” Signs: Journal Of Women In Culture & Society 31.1 (2005): 1-28. Print.
Phipps, Alison. “‘I Can’t Do With Whinging Women!’ Feminism And The Habitus Of ‘Women In Science’ Activists.” Women’s Studies International Forum 29.2 (2006): 125-135. Print.