Reasons for Low number of Women in Science and Engineering Disciplines

Reasons for Low number of Women in Science and Engineering Disciplines


The role of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been considered critical in the development of the economy of any country. In countries such as the United States, the economy is highly competitive globally because strategies targeting the streamlining of essential pipelines in STEM. This process is facilitated by the expansion and the development of the STEM workforce by governments, industry leaders, and educators. Despite the tremendous achievements of the female population in the education and workforce systems for the last five decades, there are specific scientific and engineering disciplines that have remained predominantly male. This essay will assess the reasons why the population of women in certain scientific and engineering disciples is still low. In addition, the report will also provide recommendations on the possible strategies that can be used in increasing the number of women in STEM disciplines.

Barriers to effective participation of women in STEM disciplines and profession

The persistence of several clichés and myths contribute to large percentage of factors constraining the realization of success among women in STEM. These connotations derive their support from the assumption that women do not have the drive and capacity of succeeding in STEM (Ceci and Williams 3158). These myths and clichés have gained prominence in different societies despite existing studies that have not found any significant biological dissimilarity in the abilities of men and women to realize exemplary performance in STEM (Ceci and Williams 3157). In countries such as United States, existing studies indicate that females have a greater ability of performing in mathematics and sciences compared to their male counterparts.

Higher education

The first interaction with STEM disciplines often occurs in elementary and secondary education. Throughout these education platforms children, both male and female, are exposed to mathematics and science with the objective of helping them in making decision about their career paths in their tertiary or higher education. The process of transitioning from secondary to higher education is considered as the point whereby the largest populations of students leave STEM disciplines. Existing studies indicate that at this stage the population of females is often higher than that of the male population (Castano et al 12). Furthermore, in high school, women are less inclined to choosing STEM disciplines in the completion of non-scientific tracks. Inasmuch as there has been an exponential growth in the overall participation of women in higher education globally, female representation in STEM disciplines has remained relatively low. The low population can be attributed to a myriad of factors that have negative implications on the ability of women to access the right information in the section of their career paths. Limited information in the selection of study fields, retention, and graduation has influenced the preferences, motives of women. This is because the available information is defined stereotypes, cultural norms, and values that seem to encourage the discrimination of women to choose STEM related disciplines.

According to Ceci and Williams (3160), in countries such as the United States, the main factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women in STEM related disciplines are choices and preferences that are freely made and constrained at the same time. Women, especially while transitioning from high school into higher education, make these choices despite earning relatively higher grades in science and math compared to their male counterparts throughout their schooling. For majority of female students, the process of planning for their education and career paths derives much of its influence from the underlying expectations about their social roles such as the anticipated family roles. Existing studies indicate that while pursing higher education, women prefer career paths that are not in conflict with the expected family responsibilities such as child bearing (Fouad and Singh 123). The usefulness of some of their career paths in child bearing explains why more women are enrolling in education, medicine, and psychology. From an academic perspective, it is possible to conclude that women do not consider STEM related disciplines to be family friendly.

Family background, Cultural norms, and stereotypes

Cultural practices, societal norms, and stereotypes in different communities have played an essential role in segregating women from STEM fields of study (Zubieta 22). In regions such as Latin America, stereotypes have played the social barrier and ideological roles that have prevented women from significant engagement in STEM related professions (Ceci and Williams 3161). The stereotypes discourage women from engaging in these fields because of the underlying belief that they are related to male attributes.

Most of the families are male dominated which implies that the absence of female role models in such families influences the participation of women in STEM related careers. Existing studies indicate that the youth in higher institutions of learning make career choices based on the experiences of the adult workforce. In a society where women are unsuccessful in certain career paths, there is a high likelihood that the subsequent generation will emulate their success. According to Suter (17), the family background of a woman can influence her selection of career path. This is because existing studies indicate that women pursuing STEM related courses have at least one parent or family member in one of the disciplines. This is an indication of the essence of female role model who is successful in male dominated discipline.

Figure 1.0 Participation and interest in STEM disciplines among women overtime with projected equality

Traditionally, STEM disciplines are male dominated. This means that cultural and societal norms play a critical role in the explanation of the low participation of women in these disciplines. In the United States, according to Castano et al (18), the high population of male professors in STEM departments plays an influential role in the recruitment of females because of the existing cultural connotation among male professors that it is easier to work with male students. This may make females feel unwelcomed and marginalized. It also implies that if women are subjected to more negative experiences in higher institution of learning compared to the men, they may be less inclined in the selection of STEM fields of study.

Cultural norms and values in the view of Fouad and Singh (125) can also affect the accuracy of information accessed by women and their perceptions regarding career opportunities in STEM. Despite the high population of girls who qualify for STEM courses, their underrepresentation can be attributed to the stereotypical information that they advisers provide about the disciplines hence steering them into other fields.

Career development

There is a wide gender gap in terms of active participation of women in STEM profession than in other careers such as education. In countries such as the United States, women face significant barriers in advancing in STEM professions compared to the male with comparable academic credentials. However, the elimination of existing gender biases in attaining academic credentials would slightly narrow the existing gender gap in the participation of worm in STEM professions. This means that most of the gender gap emanates from underutilization of skills among those who have attained it (Fouad and Singh 126). The career development of women in these fields is defined by vertical segregation in which women are concentrated at the bottom of the hierarchy eliminating them from decision-making and leadership positions. This feature in the view of Ceci and Williams (3162) has contributed to high exit rate of women entering STEM occupations since they are male dominated. Furthermore, the resulting blocked and slow career progress has ensued in the development of barriers that make it difficult for women to rise to major leadership position in science, technology, and engineering disciplines.

Like, other professions, STEM occupations are also characterized by high level of competition in obtaining entry-level positions. However, gender biased recruitment and hiring process in these professions have penalized women. The negative impact in this field of study emanate from the low initial salaries offered to women. Restrictive norm and regulations targeting women can also affect their access and decisions on STEM careers. This is often facilitated by the existing physical conditions that define job requirement such as night shifts and heavy lifting. Many European countries are defined by the existence of a plethora of structural barriers, which are embedded within regulations (Fouad and Singh 125). Most of these barriers are created by the increasingly male dominated hierarchies characterized by social assumptions regarding the role of woman and men hence hindering the utilization of existing potential.

Solutions to the barriers facing women in STEM disciplines

Governments, institutions of higher learning and international organizations have been involved in the design and implementation of policies aimed at overcoming different barriers that face women in their pursuit of success in STEM related occupations. There is need of these stakeholders to take active initiatives in the development of policies targeting the incorporation of gender equality in STEM disciplines. This will be through the implementation of policies related to women and science and that are committed to gender mainstreaming. This will be enhanced by the creation of national committees targeting the involvement of women in science, the promotion of gender studies in research and the publication off sex- disaggregated statistics (Correll 1693). The process of implementing such policies should be based on the understanding that different countries operate within varied context, which define their formulation.

An additional technique would be for higher learning institutions to develop policies and programs that target an increase of women’s participation in tertiary science education. These would include the incorporation of mentorship programs linking the faculty, graduates and students. In addition, these institutions should also introduce motivation programs targeting female school leavers. Through such an approach, it will be possible to provide these women with accurate and relevant information in the process of making career path decisions (Zubieta 41). By introducing policies that make STEM fields of study more appealing to women, the institutions and policy makers will be able to overcome existing gender differences will contribute to an improvement in teaching and reputation of STEM occupations among women. This is because such policies and programs encourage women in their career aspiration considering that they gain self-confidence that enable them to engage in effective networking with colleagues in similar situations (Fouad and Singh 127). Furthermore, such programs also help women in the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the structures that define learning institutions and research structures and organization.

The introduction of women’s support programs in learning institutions will also help in shaping a country’s path towards becoming knowledge and information based society. This will be aimed by the development and implementation of a wide range of projects and initiatives founded on the desire of exploiting the potential of women in all spheres of work and society. For learning institutions, these strategies will help in improving on expertise, equal access to opportunities and digital integration in training, education, and career progression (Correll 1695). By focusing on gender oriented life and vocational planning and transition to work, learning institutions will institutions will help in promoting talented women into pursuing relevant academic disciplines and career paths.

To address the issue of stereotypes and cultural norms it will be important for different stakeholders to engage in the development of policies targeting the promotion of women careers and increasing their productivity in STEM related disciplines. Interventions would include the development of policies targeting research funding, adaptation of an advertising language that make STEM disciplines more appealing and friendly to women (Zubieta 44). In addition, these policies should provide financial assistance to women in research, facilitating networking and the provision of economic incentives to gender balanced research departments.

In order to address issues related to salary differences and hiring incentives, there is need for governments to engage in the development of policies aimed at awarding institutions that address gender issues. Such policies would also help in addressing issues related to work and family responsibilities. This will help in subsiding childcare and maternal leave, which are crucial in the development of flexible work schedules (Correll 1701). Through such polices, programs and strategies, it will be possible for the stakeholders to encourage and support the participation of women in STEM fields of study especially those that have been underrepresented historically.


Multiple barriers in the recruitment and promotion of women in STEM related occupations have resulted in incomplete exploitation of the potential of women in these fields. Depending on the path of career progress, stereotypical connotations, personal preferences, lack of role models and societal norms have affected the choices that women make in higher education. Other than male dominance and the existence of restrictive regulations women face additional barriers that affect their performance and career progression such as inaccurate information, limited funding and institutional support and bias in research evaluation procedures. There is need for government and other policy makers to engage in the development and implementation of policies aimed at overcoming these challenges and encouraging gender parity in STEM fields of study. Through such policies, it will be possible to promote the presence of women in science. The development of effective policies can only be realized when the concerned policy makers can acquire comparable and complete information of the real features and dimensions of the existing gender gap in STEM disciplines which is key in the development of a major understanding of the root causes and the proposal of effective policies.



Works cited

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Fouad, Nadya. A. and Singh, Romila. 2011. “Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave

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