CHOOSING A CAREER / NOV. 06, 2013
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The Stereotypes of the STEM Career

Stereotyping is something we have probably all been the subject to at some point in our lives; whether it’s judging a book by it’s cover ourselves, or being the one to be pre-judged. Stereotyping is unfortunately something that is inevitable in the workplace, we’ve all heard the common ones: librarians are quiet, beauticians are thick and IT consultations are nerds. This kind of labeling is not only hurtful to those in careers such as these, but it can also deter others from wanting to progress in a certain field; and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers are no different.

STEM careers seem to have developed this stereotype that people in these kinds of fields are geeky, socially awkward and unattractive. Males, who seem to be less affected by the stereotypes that these careers hold, dominate the majority of STEM jobs. Whereas, over the years there has been a significant decrease in women interested in science, math, engineering or technology. In fact, NMSI reports that a mere 23% of employees in a STEM career are women. The National Center for Woman & Information Technology or NCWIT also states that there is a much higher amount of women leaving their STEM jobs, with around 40% admitting that they have no role model, and almost half reporting that they lacked a mentor. 

Most stereotypes stem (pun intended) from the media. Programs such as, The Big Bang Theory and The IT Crowd have provided us with an unrealistic insight into the STEM world. These depictions have not only deterred woman from venturing into such careers – who wants to be looked upon as unattractive and awkward? – but have also created a false representation that there is no place for women in the STEM field. With all the main characters in shows such as these being male, and the females involved in STEM jobs being portrayed as ‘weird’ and the ones not, being looked upon as too ‘idiotic’ to understand, women are led to believe that the world of science, technology, math and engineering is something that should be ‘best left to men.’

So what can we do about these stereotypes? Surely there must be a way in which we can encourage more women to venture into STEM careers?

The first step to inspiring women into becoming more interested in these kinds of fields is to distance the stereotypes that surround STEM jobs. For instance:

  1. Promoting more female role models in STEM careers – this is a good way of introducing the idea that there is a place for women in science, technology, math and engineering.
  2. Creating female orientated groups that focus on STEM studies – Girls Who Code http://www.girlswhocode.com/ is a good example of this.
  3. Introducing girls earlier on to science, coding and engineering - out of all the STEM careers math proves to be the most popular amongst women, some believe this because girls learn math earlier on than the other subjects.

Some women in STEM careers have started to ‘fight back’ and combat the stereotypes. For instance, there was famous moment in Barbie history in 2010 when Mattel Inc. held a competition to vote for Barbie’s next career move. Most girls voted for Barbie to be an anchorwoman. However, by the end of the first week of voting a huge amount of votes surged in to make Barbie a computer engineer, and a blog campaign by GeekGirlCamp.com emerged, "please help us in getting Barbie to get her Geek on!" The result was this http://www.barbie.com/vote/. This just goes to show that the typical response for girls was to give Barbie a ‘girly’ job.

The reason I mention this campaign is because Barbie is an idol amongst young girls; and having a career such as a computer engineer could really help to increase the amount of women who emerge in STEM occupations later in life. Campaigns such as these not only show that women in STEM jobs are unrepresented, but that we if try hard enough, we can change that, and hopefully in the future break down these stereotypes.  

Come on girls, let’s show the guys what we’re made of and combat these labels once and for all!

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