THE number of women doing a science-based degree and going into industry is at a record high with an increase of 6%. But despite this, women make up only 27% of employment within the Science Industry. Why is this figure so low? And why, despite girls outperforming boys at GCSE level does the Science field have such a lack of women?
Throughout history women have been denounced as the less academic of the genders. In 1992 a new Barbie was launched with the catch phrase, “Math class is tough!” playing directly into stereotypes that maths and similar subject such as science did not mix with girls. It took a matter of months of complaints from angry parents for Mattel to pull the Barbie off the shelves.
The struggle to get girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields is a prevalent issue in today’s society.
At a Southampton based Science Event, I spoke to Marika Taylor, a Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Southampton. She believed that the disregard for science in women was instilled in them at an early age: “You’re encouraged to do things that are more feminine like arts and humanities, and then when you get to university level or go to apprenticeships being in the minority, it’s not a comfortable environment for women, so women almost have to fight for their rights.” She pointed out that young children’s toys for girls were based on their appearance and usually consisting of makeup, dolls and dressing up. Whereas the toys for boys, were more methodical and construction-based such as lego, building blocks and bionicles. It is clear to see where she is coming from. A quick flick through an Argos catalogue can prove such an argument to be true.
According to statistics from The Wise Campaign, on average 50% of pupils who entered the GCSE Science exams in 2016 were female. But only 35% of the exam takers carried on education on post 16 years old.
Gavin Costigan, Director of Public Policy at University of Southampton and former senior civil servant said: “I do think that for whatever reason girls get put off science subjects at school, and the whole thing then means that fewer women come to study science at University…”
According to Abigail Norfleet James’ book, Teaching the Female Brain: How Girls Learn Math and Science girls and boys learn and retain information in completely different ways. Women generally process information with the left side of their brains – also known as the “language side”. This could be where the bias comes from that languages are for girls. This does not stop them in any way from being able to study science, but instead they just need to learn it in a different way.
Watching a presentation on a screen or being told how to do something simply wouldn’t be enough. Instead they need to dissect how to do things using language, or in other words talk it through. Perhaps then this is the brunt of the issue. It is not that science isn’t for girls but instead it is not taught in a way that benefits them.
I asked second year Neuroscience student at The University of Nottingham Diana Monro whether she noticed a lack of women in the industry: “My course is probably 70% women and 30% men. I’m taught by more male lecturers than females. The rest of life sciences at Nottingham have more males.” Despite not everyone having direct experiences of the lack of women in the industry, the fact and statistics still remain.
But with a 1% increase this year in girls choosing STEM based subjects for A level, perhaps the stigma has been broken and the women in the STEM world will be on the rise.