What does STEM stand for? Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Research has shown that fields of science, technology, engineering and technology have been predominantly male since the origin of these fields, with a low percentage of women participation. Overall, women hold about forty-seven percent (47%) of all jobs, but only 24% of STEM jobs, showing that women are underrepresented in this field.
Thus the question; Why is there a low participation of women in STEM?
We once came across a tweet that talked about how the girls in Engineering departments are often ridiculed by their male counterparts and how in Nigerian universities the boys in these departments referred to the girls with them as “men”.
It is also needful to mention that Engineering has the lowest percentage with only 12–13% of women in the workforce. One user argued that women do not excel in STEM because it is difficult not because they are being discriminated against. He stated, “ The kind of slander that society gives sex workers is enough to dissuade anyone from going into it, still we see women trooping there. Women aren’t in STEM because it’s difficult, simple”.
Interacting with some male associates, we discovered that most of them assume that women aren’t in STEM because they find it difficult unlike the Arts or Social Sciences because it involves rigorous mental work and many are not capable although a handful argued otherwise. While it is true that STEM courses are somewhat difficult, this stereotyping is absurd and biased because this assumption is based on deductive arguments/reasoning with no factual or scientific evidence to back this claim, moreover there are women in this field doing exceedingly well.
Sadly, this reasoning has been internalized by so many in Africa, even some women believe courses in science and technology are not appropriate for them and do not challenge themselves to excel in this field. In other words, African women are being marginalized in STEM. Again, it has been discovered that even in developed countries like Australia on average, women in STEM earn 19% less than men despite having the same qualifications, and the wage gap percentage is even wider for coloured women. Also, a 2008 report ‘‘The Athena Factor’’ stated that women in high positions in male dominated workplaces faced harsher penalties than men when they slip up.
According to Pew-Research, 50% of women in STEM jobs say they have experienced at least one of the eight forms of discrimination. Evaluating all these reports, we can deduce we still have a long way to go in increasing the number of women in these fields as so many girls/women are limited by the fear of discrimination, lack of access to quality education, tuition funds, societal values and cultural expectations of the girl child, etc.
How do we increase women participation in STEM?
- Government, corporate and Private organizations and NGOs can sponsor tuition or offer scholarships to women in science and technology. An example is how earlier this year, to celebrate Women’s month, Kuda Bank opened ‘Internship for Women’ to balance the gender gap of people working in the Fin-Tech company.
- Women already working in STEM can connect with aspirants as mentors or advisers, serving as their role models, encouraging and pointing them in the right direction.
We can also achieve a change by:
- Encouraging and exposing girls to explore the tech fields through special programs, workshops, conferences amongst others targeted at them.
- Involving female scientists in the development of STEM policies and leadership positions.
- Encouraging equal wages between men and women of the same qualifications.
- Providing loans, grants, and other forms of incentives to fund female-led start-ups and research.
- Calling out discrimination against women in the workplace with due consequences.
With the right measures taken, by the next decade, there would be a substantial increase in the number of women participating in STEM.
About Steer Initiative
Steer is a continent-wide initiative actively identifying marginalized communities and providing them with tailored solutions through collaboration, volunteerism, and participatory partnerships. The initiative focuses on steering access to education, digital training for teachers, skills acquisition for women and young people, and social outreaches to address community challenges and support disaster reliefs. Steer leverages the support of like-minded individuals and civil society organizations who want to stand up for, reach, and empower communities to strengthen societal engagement, to drive equality and social change.
Written by Chioma Maduagum, Communication Analyst, Steer Initiative
Reviewed by Olufunmilayo Obadofin, Project Manager, Steer Initiative