In honor of National Women in STEM Day, I would like to address an issue that goes ignored and cannot be solved with the institution of a "day."
As an Engineering major, I have come across many problems in the world of STEM. None, however, have been as prevalent as the blatant sexism and sexual harassment behind the closed doors. From a young age, girls are taught to belittle themselves and to hold men to a higher standard.
In a study conducted by Lin Bian in 2017, both girls and boys at age five had no gender preferences when deciphering who is "really, really smart." However, by age six, girls tended to group more boys than girls into the “really, really smart” category, and also removed themselves from games they thought required you to be "really, really smart," as reported by Harvard University. So, from age six, we women are taught to think less of ourselves when it comes to general intelligence, but the sexism does not stop there. Not even close.
In my experience in the STEM workforce, I was always perceived in a daughterly way. I was the only girl in an office of over 25 men, besides the office assistant. Every meeting we had to discuss projects and upcoming tasks, my opinions were not valued as highly as other men of my same stature. I was always titled "sweetie" and "honey," and was made fun of for having nice nails. A supervisor told me, "You would make a great secretary!"
Often, I was given the aid of a male counterpart for dirty or heavy-lifting jobs. I was deemed incapable of doing these things alone because I am a woman. As women, we are at a constant disadvantage in the workplace for many reasons, but one of the most common reasons is because we are seen as incapable or unintelligent.
According to Harvard University, in a recent study by Daniel Z. Grunspan, men who are enrolled in undergraduate biology classes at the University of Washington ranked their women classmates less knowledgeable about the course content, even if those women outperformed the men with higher scores. The men in the class ranked their fellow male classmates at 0.57 GPA points higher on a four-point scale than women.
This is like saying a man with a "B" in a class is just as knowledgeable about course content as a woman with an "A." This mindset is what makes it increasingly difficult for women to present in board meetings or to speak up in project-planning meetings, because we know our opinions are viewed as less valuable than a man’s opinion.
According to Cary Funk and Kim Parker of Pew Research Center, "About half (48 percent) of women in STEM jobs who work with mostly men say their gender has made it harder for them to succeed in their job, compared with just 14 (percent) of other women in STEM."
The following quote from one of the women in this study, who remains anonymous, explaining these findings is a perfect example of STEM workplace sexism. "People automatically assume I am the secretary, or in a less technical role because I am female. This makes it difficult for me to build a technical network to get my work done. People will call on my male co-workers, but not call on me."
As often as we try to pretend there is not, there is definitely still a gender-biased wage gap. A survey was recorded for faculty in the physics field. According to Susan White, the data analyst for the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics, "The model says that if we have two people who are identical in every way, the woman will make, on average, 6 (percent) less than the man," as reported by Harvard University. These numbers speak for themselves.
Another roadblock in the way of gender equality in the STEM field is the ignorance and unawareness of the men we work with to the problem of sexism. Men constantly choose to believe what makes them feel better about themselves, as opposed to owning up to the truth and making a conscious effort to fix the problem. Men also completely overlook the issue because it does not affect them, so why would they help?
Additionally, a study, reported by Harvard University, by Ian M. Handley shows male scientists are more likely to discredit real, credited studies showing gender inequality while accepting the information in a fake, completely made up study showing there is no gender inequality in the STEM field.
In conclusion, sexism in the STEM field is just as much a concern today as it was 20 years ago. Women are taught we are less than men starting at age six, and this permeates throughout our lives.
We can be far more than secretaries and office assistants, and we should be treated just as capable as men. The only way this issue is resolved is for both men and women to work together to be aware and proactive to stop sexism in technical fields.
We are women. We are capable. We need to be treated as such.