Women of STEM

Women at West are pushing for STEM to be more inclusive.

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Only 27 percent of students who took the AP Computer Science exam in 2017 were women, and only 18 percent of computer science degrees in the US go to women. People are becoming more aware about the gender inequalities in science, technology, engineering, and math (also known as STEM), but the reasons behind this large gap still aren’t as apparent.

Elle Kim ’20 is one of the women who continuously engages in STEM through the robotics team and AP Computer Science, even with a fair share of setbacks.   

“There’s definitely obstacles in STEM for women,” Kim said. “People doubt you and think that you’re not right, and then when you are right they don’t talk about it.”

Being overlooked is a common experience for many women, and in STEM more than ever. According to the American Association of University Women, when fields such as science are viewed as masculine, it makes it harder for women to show their achievements in the field due to implicit bias. Some frequent occurrences involve being interrupted and having someone else take credit for your idea, according to Kim. A historical example of this was when Rosalind Franklin wasn’t credited with her important research in the finding on DNA, but this issue still persists today. Even women who are interested in learning about STEM are likely to feel discouraged by this and look for another career.

Another issue that many women face is the fear of being the first woman to join the room of men. For Kim, this was being one of the two women in her computer science class. Dominic Audia, the AP Computer Science and Principles of Engineering teacher, agrees that this a major obstacle to getting women involved in these classes.

You have insight and a different perspective from these young women. They definitely enhance the class”

— Dominic Audia

“I think there’s peer pressure about taking classes that are male dominated,” Audia said. “From the young women I’ve talked to, sometimes they feel uncomfortable when they walk into a class and see predominately boys.”

Feeling discouraged early on is one of the reasons women are statistically much less likely to participate in STEM than men. According to the Department of Commerce, only 24 percent of STEM jobs are occupied by women. Audia, says that percentage also applies to the students in his classes. Audia also wants to encourage more diverse students to take the class and change that.

“You have insight and a different perspective from these young women,” Audia said. “They definitely enhance the class.”

STEM is a field that involves a lot of creative problem solving, so getting these new perspectives is helpful to solve problems. Audia says that the women in his classes are very hardworking because they want to prove their abilities.

“The young women I’ve worked with typically have a very strong work ethic and they want to do well. They want to compete against the boys.” Audia said.

There are many ways for women at West High to get involved in STEM, including the robotics team and many other classes that West has to offer. Kim encourages anyone interested in STEM to give it a try and join these activities.

“Don’t give up,” Kim said. “It’s really easy to give up and think ‘I’m not good enough’, but I would keep pushing through and keep going.”

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