From the time we first turn on a television or read a book, we’re exposed to examples of scientists and engineers. What we often don’t see are female scientists and engineers. In fact, an analysis of children’s media found that for every 15 male characters with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions, there was only one female character with a STEM job.
I’ve seen the direct impact of that underrepresentation personally. My sister, a third-grade teacher, once asked her students to write a letter to a scientist (me) and draw a picture of what a scientist looks like on the back of the letter. Out of the 24 letters I received, 23 students drew a male scientist. Let that sink in – they knew I was a female, but their unconscious bias still guided their hand to sketch the STEM stereotype.
Data shows that women only make up 28% of the STEM workforce. The barriers to these fields are raised long before a young woman has the opportunity to choose a career or major in college.
As a scientist, I can’t ignore all the data that supports the gender bias hindering female progress in STEM. But I know that I can help at a community level. I come from a family of educators and hold a strong belief that engaging students early in science is critical to building the future. We can make kids more aware of these areas of study and where they can lead them in a future career.