The Good Fight for Women in STEM

Let's continue to combat the lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

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Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Editor’s Note: This post is the part of our ongoing look at the continued lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. See all posts related to this project here.

Two weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by NYC Women.Connect, an organization that creates forums focused on female entrepreneurship. One of the presenters at this event was Glimpse Labs cofounder Elissa Shevinsky, who was featured in a recent New York Times article about the technology industry’s “man problem.”

Shevinsky says she can identify the exact moment she felt she no longer belonged in tech: When she watched a TechCrunch Disrupt presentation last fall for an app called “Titstare,” which allowed men to take photos of themselves staring at women’s breasts. She later had a falling out with her male business partner, who publicly defended the Titstare makers (he ultimately apologized and the two have made up). She summarized her thoughts on the matter by saying, “I thought that we didn’t need more women in tech. I was wrong.”

Unfortunately, Shevinsky’s experience of feeling turned off and pushed away by sexism in the tech world isn’t unique. Another woman that I interviewed for this series, Chic G.E.E.K.S. founder LaTisha Durham, recounted how a male colleague once said she should be a model rather than an engineer. She recalled, “I started to feel that, as a woman, I did not belong.”

Earlier in this series, we looked at several studies that demonstrated — in numeric and scientific terms, no less — the pervasive biases that effectively create a disconnect between women and STEM. The problems first surface when women are young students and worsen as they face gender-based hiring discrimination while pursuing STEM jobs.

Some feel the problem is compounded by the lack of female role models  — as Jessica Lawrence, executive director of the NY Tech Meetup, notes: “Girls cannot be what they cannot see.” Others, such as Nancy Hopkins of MIT, say academia isn’t as welcoming as it should be to female STEM students. Either way, one thing is clear — the issue is deeply entrenched in the STEM world, making it all the more difficult to fix.

The good news is that an increasing number of individuals and institutions are taking an interest in bettering the STEM world for today’s female employees and entrepreneurs, from the Association for Women in Science to the National Research Council’s  Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. And for tomorrow’s female pioneers, multiple organizations (including Girls Who Code and IGNITE) are attempting to combat the lack of connectivity between school-aged girls and STEM.

These efforts are admirable, but there is still more work to be done. And it’s a pressing matter, as rectifying the problem is integral to the betterment of our society. Wibi+Works founder Aline Betancourt and University of California, Davis professor Jonathan Eisen told us that the issue is detrimental not only to women and minorities, but to the overall well-being of the STEM industries as well.

Eisen explained that a lack of diversity prevents us from having the most qualified people working in STEM, and that “[i]f we want our science to be the best it possibly can be — and also the fairest and most welcoming — then we have to make sure we’re not either purposefully or accidentally biasing against people.”

Betancourt added during her interview that we should “not worry about the gender of the person doing the science, but rather, the importance and significance of his or her work.”

We couldn’t agree more. Let’s fix the tech industry’s “man problem” and continue the good fight to get more women in STEM.

For a List of All Project Posts: The Story Exchange on STEM Entrepreneurship

Posted: May 30, 2014

Candice Helfand-RogersThe Good Fight for Women in STEM