The Importance of Women Role Models in STEM

By: Grace Dille

While more and more women are getting involved in STEM fields, the industry still remains overwhelmingly male-dominated.

Women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015, but only 24 percent of all Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) jobs, according to the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE).

So what do we make of this gender disparity? Why are women not getting involved in STEM fields and what can be done to close this STEM gap?

According to a recent study by Microsoft, many girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles and do not have a female role model in the STEM field.

The study found that girls who know a woman in a STEM profession were 17 percent more likely to feel empowered when they engage in STEM activities than those who don’t know a woman in a STEM profession.

Bethany Rupnow, a 2017 EPICS in IEEE project leader who brought solar energy to an orphanage in Honduras, said that her mom served as a mentor who encouraged Rupnow to get involved in the STEM field. An engineer herself, her mother was the only woman in her graduating class.

“While there are more and more women in engineering, the go-tos in high school seem to be medicine or teaching for women and business or engineering for men,” Rupnow said. “You rarely see a woman in engineering who doesn’t have at least one parent in the field.”

This lack of mentors in the STEM fields contributes to the lack of women who choose to pursue a degree or career in STEM. With more exposure to positive role models, young girls could find women that they can relate to and aspire to be.

“Providing more girls with access to female role models is just one step in the right direction,” said Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive. “In tangible terms, this needs to come from curriculum reform and investment in programmes to expose more girls and young women to positive female role models and mentors who have been successful in their field.”

Did you have a role model that encouraged you to pursue STEM? Are you supporting and encouraging young girls in STEM? Keep the conversation going and share your experience with us on Facebook.