Although progress has been made for gender equality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), significant strides are still needed for equal representation.
Demonstrating his support for women’s issues, President Donald Trump signed into law two bills that encourage women to pursue careers in these STEM fields. The bills, “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act” and “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act,” were introduced by women in Congress and were signed into law at the end of February.
The INSPIRE Women Act was introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-VA. The law requires NASA to “develop a plan for facilitating and supporting retired astronauts, scientists, engineers and innovators to engage with K-12 female STEM students in an attempt to inspire young women to consider participating” in STEM fields. NASA has 90 days since the enactment of the bill to formulate a plan for the facilitation and support of those professionals on how to best engage with girls with aspirations to enter STEM fields of study.
The second bill, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship bill, was introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-CT, and aims to encourage entrepreneurial programs to recruit and support women to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and into the commercial world.
“[Women in the workforce are] really going to be addressed by my administration over the years with more and more of these bills coming out and addressing the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs and by those in STEM fields,” said President Trump, who has previously been criticized for his treatment of women.
Although girls now make up half of the enrollment in high school science and math classes, that number drops significantly when entering undergraduate and graduate programs, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), an organization committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM.
As it stands, women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce, but hold less than a quarter of jobs in STEM. Of the women who do focus on STEM disciplines in their undergraduate studies, only 26 percent have careers in STEM. Only 11 percent of physicists and astronomers, 10 percent of electrical and computer hardware engineers, and fewer than eight percent of mechanical engineers are women, according to NGCP.
These bills may make all the difference. Instead of women being discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM, they could be empowered from a young age to study these concentrations, in effect bringing young girls face-to-face with women who are successful in these fields.
When UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering started a program in 2014 called Girls in Engineering, program director Lizzie Hager-Barnard said that one obstacle for girls when considering career goals is that they say they want to help people and dismiss engineering as boring.
“We have to give girls examples of how engineers do help people — they work with doctors to make better drugs, they make systems for clean air and water,” Hager-Barnard said to EdSource.
The passing of INSPIRE Women Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship bill is the next step in bringing 50/50 representation to STEM careers. When women are in STEM, they will bring different perspectives to the field. There are millions of women who could potentially be interested in STEM, but have yet to fully explore all of the opportunities in this growing sector.
Photo by Idaho National Laboratory