The future of STEM is slowly becoming female.
Girls make up approximately half the enrollment of high school science and mathematics classes, the National Girls Collaborative Project reports.
Not like it comes as a surprise, but girls also performed equally to their male peers. At the K-12 level, female and male students scored equally well on standardized tests. In some areas, females surpassed their male classmates: the study found that females take advanced science courses at a higher rate (22%) than males (18%).
Male students were more likely to take courses in computer science and engineering.
Though female representation in STEM is improving in higher education and in the professional workforce, it’s still far from equal.
The study found in 2016 that women compose half of the college-educated workforce in the United States, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce. And of those women, 62% work in social sciences. Just 35% of chemists, 15% of engineers, and 11% of physicists are women.
“What this means is that girls can do it, but they’re choosing not to,” said Carol Tang, head of the California Girls in STEM Collaborative. “We need a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives in science and math. Every girl who drops out of STEM, we’re all going to feel it.”
As Tang points out and statistics support, women are more than capable of working in STEM. But because of traditional gender roles that associate men with careers and women with families and care-giving, many young women don’t pursue STEM careers. This is compounded by the pervasive sexism that can be found within many STEM workplaces.
Race and socioeconomic status can be two more daunting hurdles.
In high schools, white and Asian/Pacific Islander students were more likely to take STEM courses than their black, Latino, and Native American classmates, and scored higher on tests.
Students with parents lacking degrees and those coming from lower-income families are far less likely to take courses in STEM.
In 2012, 11.2% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering were awarded to minority women. As of 2015, minority women composed less than 10% of scientists and engineers, the study found.
But there is hope.
On the pop-culture front, the movie “Hidden Figures,” tells the story of three black female mathematicians working for NASA in the build up to the Apollo 11 moon landing. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards and has grossed more than $162.8 million.
LEGO just announced a new Women of NASA playset.
If girls make up half of science and mathematics courses in high school, then in four years, that could mean equal representation in colleges.
With new initiatives augmenting the progress that’s already been made, the future of STEM is definitely female.