“Women in STEM: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers” was written by Gettika Tripathi, a SWE Member and FY20 Global Ambassador.
On its 60th Anniversary, Barbie by Mattel Toys honored women role models from around the world who serve as a source of inspiration for young girls, by introducing dolls in their likeness. Some of the examples included Aviation Pioneer, Amelia Earhart and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson. Mattel also produced career dolls like astrophysicists and robotics engineer dolls. You might wonder why it took Mattel six decades to come up with these inspirational figurines compared to the stereotypical models based on Barbie, that they created in abundance?
The problem lies not with the company but in the biased ethos that has engulfed the society through history. There are several significant reasons why there are fewer women in STEM fields, but gender bias is among the most significant.
“When women support each other, incredible things happen!”-Uknown Author
The American playwright Robert Wilson said: “We all see only that which we are trained to see.” Even a little child can grow up to be a prejudiced individual if the seeds of bias are sown from childhood. We tend to put people and attributes in boxes, depending on their group, race, gender, country, color and so on. The mere thought that a scientist, mathematician or engineer should look, dress and behave in a certain way, thus pointing towards a male alternative, has marred innumerable chances for women who could have been equally qualified and capable to take up such roles. Several other theories of prejudice like gender bias, Horn or Halo effect, Role congruity theory, etc. has made it tough for women to rise and shatter the glass ceiling.
Is it ethical to nurture such biases? Why are we so eager to typecast people or situations? As the political activist, Emma Goldman rightly said: “It requires less mental effort to condemn than to think.”
However, there have been equally remarkable stories about ordinary women breaking all barriers and conquering stereotypes to emerge as true winners and extraordinary role models. Who can brush away the laurels of Marie Curie, the only woman in history to win two Nobel prizes for her contributions to science? Such was her passion towards unraveling her favorite topic of radioactivity that she ultimately sacrificed her life. Those questioning the ability of women to spearhead innovation and technology probably forgot that the first computer programmer was also a woman, Lady Ada Lovelace.
So how does the road ahead look like for women in STEM? Although the overall statistics for women continuing in STEM are mediocre, the women coming forth and earning laurels in STEM fields every day are also significant. As women in this field, we ought to extend our support to our counterparts and keep building a strong chain in the process, serving as a solid foundation. In the words of an unknown author, “When women support each other, incredible things happen!”