Science is the pursuit of knowledge of the natural world through observation and experiment. It is rooted in the fundamental human desire of discovery and curiosity. This desire to know, to question, and discover is common to all of humanity. Every child, regardless of race or gender, always constantly ask one simple question: why? If this desire is so basic to all people everywhere, why then do we see only a select group of people actually doing science as a career. Statistically, white men dominate occupations within science, technology, and engineering. Women and people of color are vastly underrepresented, which is extremely disappointing.
This graphic breaks down the percentages of certain groups in science and engineering occupations compared to their national percentages. It shows that even though white men only make up 31% of the United States population, they take up 49% of science and engineering occupations. They are clearly very overrepresented. On the other end, white women are vastly underrepresented. They also make up 31% of the United States population, however they only take up 49% of the Science and Engineering occupations. This discrepancy is staggering. Minorities, such as Black and Latino, are also very underrepresented regardless of gender. This graphic clearly shows that something systematic is taking place to discourage women and people of color from pursing a career in the STEM field. In order to find solutions to the problem, we must first understand the root causes of this issue.
Causes to the Problem
Women and minorities often do not feel welcome or encouraged in the STEM field. Throughout their schooling experience, they have received subtle comments and micro-messages conveying that they are not expected to pursue a degree or career in STEM. This often builds up over time, and becomes internalized by these people. They are less likely to take difficult science classes, and less likely to try hard in these science classes. This is because they naturally think they are not well adept at these skills, or they automatically a discount a career in this field. If they make it through high school and enjoy STEM, telling other people they are looking to find a career in STEM after college is usually met with shock. They are constantly made to feel like they do not belong in this field. The statistics show this is true for women and minorities who successfully start a career in STEM. These people are much more likely to leave their careers than their white male counterparts.
This graphic confirms what we already know. Women and minorities do not feel welcome in the STEM field. What is most upsetting is that these statistics are for those that choose to leave. This means they have already successfully secured a position in STEM. They have overcome so many barriers, and clearly are very motivated to attain this position. But despite all their hard-work, they are made to feel so out of place that their only option is to leave the field.
How to Increase Underrepresented Groups in STEM
So now that we understand the problem, what is the solution? The answer starts in the classroom. Teachers and educators must be positive and encouraging to all their students, regardless of race and gender. Despite what the statistics show, anyone can do science and have a successful career. Teachers and parents must understand this in order for this problem to be fixed.
Another solution that must be working in tandem is increasing women and minority scientists in the media. The media plays a huge role in determining how people think and feel about things. The media must start showing more women and minorities in the STEM field so young girls and people of color have role models to look up to. This is a crucial step.
How I will Respond as a Teacher
I am self-prescribed STEMinist. I believe stem is for all. As a teacher, I want my students to be able to see that through how I talk and act. As a teacher, I hope to be positive and encouraging to all my students. But I especially want to make sure that I am encouraging to young girls and people of color interested in STEM. They have faced so much opposition, I will strive to make sure they always believe in themselves and their abilities. Specifically, I want to:
- Encourage young women and people of color
I want to be positive and encouraging to all students of mine, but especially those who are young women and people of color. I want them to know that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. They must know that there are no limits to their potential, and that any career is attainable no matter what people think. I will encourage them to try hard and to not give up. I will challenge them so they will believe in themselves and their abilities, and help them along the way.
- Highlight role models in the STEM field
Unfortunately, it feels like all the scientists that we learn about in school are white men. Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Schrodinger, etc etc. I want to highlight scientists who have had major contributions to science who do not fit this mold. I want to teach my students about women who made amazing scientific discoveries, and people of color who had major scientific breakthroughs. By having the knowledge that people like them have done great things, they will have more self-confidence. They will have role models to look up to and a future they can envision and be excited about.
- Be aware of negative micro-messages
Micro-messages are subtle messages, most often negative, that are conveyed by people mostly unconsciously. They often express someone’s expectations, and can greatly impact young women and people of color who are interested in the STEM field. These people are often met with shocked looks or sly comments that convey to them that they don’t belong. These micro-messages can slowly build up over time, and the beliefs internalized. They begin to believe others’ expectations for them, and believe they aren’t supposed to be in STEM because its not for them. Unfortunately, a lot of the time these micro-messages occur in school, either by teachers or classmates. It’s a way of social conditioning that keeps the status quo. As a teacher, I want to be aware of these micro-messages. I will not allow them to be used by me or any student in my classroom, because I believe STEM is for everyone.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed, until next time my fellow STEMinists!