Bridging the STEM Gap

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Illustrated by Kelsey Hill.
Illustrated by Kelsey Hill.

UC Santa Cruz’s computer game design major has 478 declared and proposed undergraduate students — 66 of them are women. Similarly, the computer engineering bachelor’s of science major has 63 women students out of a total of 408 students. Nearly three years after President Obama’s declaration to increase representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, the disparities are still prevalent nationwide, despite small steps made to reduce the gender gap.

At a young age, women learn that the majority of the computer science and technology fields are male-dominated and math-focused. Women aren’t underrepresented in tech because they are ill-equipped to tackle mathematics and other STEM-field feeder subjects, but because they are never encouraged to pursue them. Young girls don’t see themselves represented by their male math and science teachers, and thus are less likely to pursue that academic path.

Results of the 2015 SAT math test reflect this underrepresentation. Over 11,000 male students achieved a perfect 800 score, while only half the number of females achieved the same feat. Meanwhile, 1,000 more female students score under 300, as opposed to male students. These scores don’t reflect different skills between men and women, rather a lack of attention from an early age.

Recently TUNE, a software startup company based out of Seattle, offered free housing to women STEM majors at the University of Washington in hopes of increasing female representation in the industry. Women-only computer and tech training facilities, like San Francisco’s Hackbright Academy and organizations like Girls who Code, are small steps that will spark a new — and equal — generation of female STEM field specialists.

While the number of women enrolling in STEM majors is increasing slightly at UCSC, according to early fall 2015  statistics from Baskin School of Engineering, it’s crucial that we maintain this upward trend. Without women STEM degree graduates, there won’t be women teachers in STEM subjects who could inspire the younger generation of girls. This way, there will be more than a handful of women in a 300-person lecture at universities, and more than one female professor in a STEM department.

A larger presence of women in STEM will de-stigmatize those who do break through the existing barriers that are discouraging them from entering the tech world. Women employed in tech are consistently hindered by sexist policies surrounding maternity leave, and sexual harassments and complaints. Women are silenced in STEM classrooms and careers, and while attention has been brought to these issues, little progress has been made.

Shows like “Silicon Valley” responded to criticism regarding the lack of female representation in its first season by casting a snarky female programmer character who tells her boss she’s “not a woman engineer,” but just an engineer. Awkward jokes surround her hire, and the show parodies the male dominance in startups. However, the show missed an opportunity to truly emphasize women’s abilities in the tech sector. It goes beyond showcasing a talent equal to that of males. Companies that pride themselves on diversity and creativity are limiting their resources and potential by not including a female presence in their workspaces.

This starts with the education, or lack thereof, that women receive, and who they receive it from. High school and grade school science and mathematics teachers play a crucial role for fostering an interest in STEM subject fields at a young age, and it’s important they not be overlooked. Female STEM teachers

serve as mentors within the field for young girls.

Last year, UCSC’s computer science department included  three female professors out of the total 20 listed on the roster. Computer engineering lists three females out of 14 total professors. If discrepancies like these continue, the representation will continue to be reflected in Silicon Valley firms and surrounding areas that neighbor Santa Cruz. Women of all ages will not have the equal opportunity to pursue careers like their male counterparts.

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