By Sarah Brill
Women have undoubtedly been underrepresented in the STEM workforce throughout history, and only recently has that changed. Women are more likely to report discrimination in STEM fields than any other, and are often referred to in an unprofessional manner, such as their first name rather than a professional title (ie. doctor). Because of these factors, women are more likely to be passed up for promotions at work because their status is dependent on what their male superiors think of them. If women are too unprofessional, or even too professional, they may come off as either slutty or bossy. Women may also be passed up for a promotion or lose their jobs if they decide to have a baby.
This is what is referred to as maternal wall discrimination, or the stereotypes and various forms of discrimination encountered by working mothers and mothers in the workforce. Women are often not given enough paid leave to take care of their babies and as a consequence, they are forced to quit their jobs. If they don’t quit their jobs, it is likely that the person who stepped in as a temporary replacement may have already replaced them permanently. In a recent study, 43% of women in STEM fields did not go back to work after having a baby as opposed to 23% of men that did go back. This was due to either not having a job to go back to or not being granted enough paid leave. With regards to STEM, there is a large employment gap (number of women hired versus number of men hired) because of stereotypes that surround certain STEM professions.
For example, female enrollment in collegiate programs in civil and electrical engineering are higher than mechanical and computer engineering. This is caused by a number of factors, the main one being that men still do not see that women are capable of doing mechanical and computer engineering, since in the past those jobs were typically given only to men. The “fixer” in the household and in the workforce has always been the man, and now when women are getting the opportunity to pursue these fields, they are either dissuaded from it in middle school or college, or degraded in the workforce by their male counterparts.
There has, however, been a major shift in the STEM workforce with regards to women in the past 10 years. Today, over 50% of women make up the medical workforce and both engineering and mathematical workforces are growing in female numbers. Even at Stern, and many other all-women colleges, computer science majors are approached by major corporations to join their companies after graduation. While this may be because their statistics are showing low female workers in the field, it is still a huge stepping stone in the right direction. One company that is making a massive stride toward shrinking the wage gap and dissolving gender stereotypes in the workforce is NASA. In 2019, the International Space Station launched its first all-female space walk with Anne C. McClain and Christina H. Koch. NASA has also released a statement stating how it aims to have an equal number of astronauts and aeronautical female workers in the coming years, while acknowledging their shortcomings in the past. This is a massive step for such a large company and they are setting an example for other companies to dissolve their gender gaps as well.
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