The United Nations made a declaration on February 9th to promote “Equality and Parity in Sciences for Peace and Development,” moving forward with gender equality in science industries. In their strive towards equal gender representation in these fields, the U.N. declared February 11th to be International Women and Girls in Science Day back in 2016.
The same goal is being pursued by a St. Cloud State University organization, Women Who STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). The group was created by faculty in an effort to re-define the stereotypical scientist by reaching out to young girls.
Melissa Hanzsek-Brills, a math professor and member of Women Who STEM at St. Cloud State, is happy to see a social problem that is near and dear to her being made a priority by the U.N.
“The most important thing is to keep moving forward,” says Brills. She explains that although many think we are improving in this area, we have actually been moving backwards a bit. The U.N. conducted a study that compared women participation in certain STEM fields in 2014 and 2004, and found a decline. While 23% of Computer Scientists were women in 2004, only 18% were women in 2014.
Brills believes a factor of this is gender stereotyping. She points to research that has shown girls excelling in math and science up until middle school, at which time many lose interest in these courses and pursue alternative careers, be it because of gender role socialization or other factors. Brills says research has also shown that women often go into professions that are nurturing or help people, and that the stereotype of STEM careers as being “cold professions” over shadows their role in helping others.
Brills believes the way to obtain equal gender representation is to encourage young girls to explore their interests, whether that be in STEM fields or not. In her own experience, a strong support system kept Brills pursuing her Ph.D. in Mathematics. She explains that it is important to give young girls the support they need to persist. Brills says, “by persisting you’re going to end up increasing the numbers and making a difference.”