Are Solutions at Hand for Lack of Women in STEM?

It’s not news that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors in universities still suffer from a lack of female students. In fact, only about a quarter of science, technology, engineering and math majors are women.

Image via the PGF/TikZ manual.

Image via the PGF/TikZ manual.

However, a recent initiative in Massachusetts is attempting to attract more women and students in general to STEM, specifically computer science, starting in middle and high school. Earlier this year, Massachusetts lawmakers proposed the idea of making computer science classes a mandatory part of the public school curriculum. Supporters of this move say that this would enlarge the number of possible applicants in general for the field, while opponents disagree, stating that such measures would be too costly.

The fact remains that only 12.9% of computer science graduates in 2011-2012 were women. This statistic is reflected at Boston College, where the number of female computer science majors is just as small. Out of eight computer science professors at BC, only one is female, according to senior Meg Bednarcik, A&S ’14.

Image via tkamenick/Flickr.

Image via tkamenick/Flickr.

Bednarcik, a computer science major, gave insight into why the population of females in computer science is statistically so low. “People have this predetermined idea of what a computer science major is, and I think that turns women away from the idea,” she states.

“I also think women get turned away from the idea of CS because it is so foreign to them. They think that the only way to be a computer science major is to know how to create the next Facebook, when really there is so much more that can be done with coding.”

Bednarcik agrees that the view of computer science needs to be changed, and that “requiring students to take the introductory course” would greatly aid any endeavors to increase not only interest, but also preparation for a career in computer science. “I know I felt behind in many of my classes at BC because I was never exposed to computer science before CS1 my freshman year.”

In response to the mandatory course proposition, some have suggested a revision to the MA lawmakers’ proposal, stating that computer science simply be offered to anyone who is interested. Regardless, computer science in public schools may be a starting solution to the problem of few women in STEM, as exposure and engagement in the field early on allows students to more easily adopt computer science as a potential major and career.

The fostering of female interest in STEM careers has also been addressed in the public business sector, specifically in the toy industry. The toy company GoldieBlox has recently released an television ad promoting their new line of interactive toys and games, which aim to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers,” according to Slate Magazine. Spurred by the statistic that only 11% of the world's engineers are female, GoldieBlox CEO Debbie Sterling seeks to inspire inventive tendencies in young girls by creating constructive toys that, although on the outside anti-glitter and pink, are created "from the female perspective."

With initiatives coming from state legislatures and those involved in the development of young girls, the future of STEM career fields is beginning to look a little bit more feminine.

Featured image via Argonne National Laboratory/Flickr.