More than a decade ago, a professor at an internationally renowned university made a controversial statement saying that the low proportion of female scientists in elite universities may be partly due to innate differences between men and women. For a while, everyone had a heated discussion on the topic “Girls are not born to study science and engineering”.
When choosing a major and a job, the “distinction” presented by boys and girls has even become a common stereotype in society for a time.
Taking the Netherlands as an example, the 2019 Gender Equality Index released by the European Institute for Gender Equality shows that the Netherlands ranks 7th in educational attainment, especially in terms of educational attainment and participation in education. The Netherlands has achieved the previously set EU target for 2020 that at least 40% of people aged 30-34 have a higher education, compared to 49% currently (53% of women and 46% of men) .
However, the proportion of women among university graduates is still lower than that of men; there is also an uneven distribution of women and men in different fields of study and employment in higher education. For example, 35% of women work in education, health and social work, compared with only 10% of men in related industries; women (4%) in STEM (i.e. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) occupations are far fewer than men. (28%).
Let’s expand a little further, a 2019 European Commission report estimated that 48% of European graduates are women, but only 24% of senior academic positions and a steep drop in STEM fields to 15%.
However, is it really gender-determined which major to study and what field to work in?
Is “gender determinism” reliable?
Research into biological factors such as brain structure and development, genetics, neuroscience and hormones shows that the number of gender differences in STEM fields is not the same as above, according to a study released by UNESCO in 2017. Caused by differences in biological factors or innate abilities.
In fact, academic performance, including STEM, is influenced by people’s experience and can be improved through targeted interventions. People’s spatial and language skills competencies (particularly written language competencies) are positively associated with math performance, and these competencies can be improved through gender-neutral practice early in learning.
At last year’s Ladies Who Tech annual conference in women’s technology, David Wong, sales leader of Philips’ Interventional Therapy business in Greater China, shared a short story with Holland Online. Philips once held a global competition internally. The participating engineers brought their own projects to optimize or develop products. The final winner was a Chinese female system engineer.
David Wong pointed out that she won the award because of her hard work and hard work, and has nothing to do with her gender. Her victory also made the competition meaningful because it made it easier for more people to see that women are no different from men in ability or enthusiasm in their pursuit of success.
Multiple reasons holding women back from entering STEM professions
E. Shi, who graduated from the Department of Sociology of Columbia University, discussed the reasons for this social phenomenon. She pointed out: Numerous studies have found that from the perspective of women themselves, at the level of micro-personal psychology and meso-level interpersonal relationships, higher education institutions Women in STEM are more concerned about grades, and they are more likely to attribute their academic performance or poor performance in the STEM field to lack of innate ability rather than lack of effort; as a “minority group” in STEM majors, their vision and evaluation of the people around them will become more sensitive; people tend to study and discuss with peers of the same sex, and women as a “minority group” will also be at a disadvantage; compared to men who are socially entrusted with the role of breadwinners, they have high economic returns to STEM subjects Potential is less sensitive.
Although the reasons behind it are still controversial, the current academic community is biased to believe that these are the reasons why women are more likely to “drain” in STEM majors in colleges.
In contrast, society has also reached a “consensus” about the responsibilities of men, which puts them under greater social/cultural pressures – out of a sense of financial responsibility for future families, as well as personal social status. Highly regarded, men avoid industries with low income and social status.
The Associated Press has reported that a study based on a 2012 survey of 17,110 students found a strong correlation between high incomes and highly specialized degrees. For example, more than 95 percent of computer and information science graduates had full-time jobs at the time of the survey, earning an average of $72,600 a year, and engineering students surveyed had similar salary levels and career prospects; by contrast, Humanities graduates are more likely to hold multiple jobs, but earn only $43,100 a year full-time on average.
One of the things holding back more women in tech is perception, says David Wong. Philips pays attention to health technology. If they take the medical industry as an example, in the radiology department, they find that doctors are mostly male, and women may hesitate because of fear of exposure to radiation, and this worry is especially true among young women who have no children. universal. Over time, women develop the notion that “this career path is not right for them”.
For women who are already employed in tech, they also face some dilemmas. Liang Gebi, general manager of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint China, mentioned the common gender-based unconscious bias in the workplace, which is defined by the International Labour Organization as gender-based automatic psychological presuppositions and associations. Values, culture, and/or experience, these psychological associations will inform decision-making and allow for rapid assessment of individuals based on gender and gender stereotypes.
She gave a common example – more boys take the initiative to discuss promotions with the company, and their behavior will also give them extra points, but on the other hand, girls, if they put forward similar needs, it will make people question “why girls To be so ambitious?”, thus forming a negative impression.
How to help women break down barriers?
While the reality is grim, the ILO also points out that an agency or company can take steps to counteract gender bias and other types of bias, so that an individual’s unconscious gender bias does not automatically translate into bias in the workplace.
Efforts from home and school, the business or institution where they work, are important to increase the proportion of women in STEM fields and reduce the unconscious biases they face.
Let the school become a “dream factory”
The researchers found that schools that assign mentors to students when they first enroll and provide them with special research opportunities throughout their college careers have similar effects on male and female students (and may even have a more positive effect on women than men). Big).
Research published in The Lancet shows that female role models can help girls eliminate the negative effects of gender stereotypes. Including many examples of female scientists in teachers’ classroom teaching can also effectively reduce or eliminate the role of gender in scientific research. Stereotypes in the field; emphasizing that there is little difference between the sexes in terms of scientific performance and ability to achieve success can help girls develop a broad understanding of scientific research.
From this point of view, women, as a minority group in the STEM field, need to receive more active external support, understanding and guidance to help them persevere in this field.
Therefore, on the “Girls’ Day” in the Netherlands, major technology companies and their technology departments opened their doors to girls aged 10 to 15 from all over the Netherlands, allowing them to experience the charm of STEM up close, and girls can participate in interesting activities , meet women in these companies, and learn more about jobs in science and technology roles.
In recent years, women’s clubs have sprung up, many of them are women interested in interdisciplinary research, some of them have double majors (such as a STEM major, another social science or humanities major), hoping to combine STEM disciplines Achieve more new breakthroughs with cutting-edge knowledge in non-STEM disciplines.
This shows that interdisciplinary research may provide an opportunity for women studying STEM to realize their self-worth. If the academic community can pay more attention to the interests of female researchers or students in interdisciplinary research and provide them with more opportunities, it may be possible to reduce the number of The number of women leaving STEM fields makes even more women willing to get involved in STEM fields.
Make the family a “booster”
The impact of families is also not to be underestimated. Academics at the University of Twente in the Netherlands found that in a randomized trial, they informed parents of the positive impact of choosing STEM subjects in high school through information channels such as brochures and websites. Increase parental awareness of STEM and strengthen communication between parents and teens on the topic of STEM.
The results showed that the researchers’ intervention had a positive effect on mothers’ perceptions of the value of STEM programs, the conversations parents had with their children about the value of STEM programs, and the amount of STEM programs teens chose. Another interesting finding was that the above interventions produced results that did not vary with the sex of the child.
David Wong, who has a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, said: “I respect my daughter’s personal interests and her choices. If she wants to study STEM subjects, I’m happy if she wants to. In the social sciences and humanities, that’s perfectly fine. But I want her to know that the door to an engineer will always be open to her.”
Regarding the various divisions of labor within the family, David Wong also pointed out that some men cannot automatically realize the problems that women may face when dealing with others and dealing with problems, so their willingness to understand the gender status of society and provide support and help to women is very important .
With the gradual development of the times, in order to meet the economic needs of the family, both husband and wife will have their own jobs. In Ladies Who Tech’s inaugural roundtable discussion, “The Importance of Allies in the Gender Diversity Process,” David Wong said that communication between family members is especially important when there is a choice between work and family.
Let the workplace become a “creative camp”
In order to help women make the transition from school to tech jobs more easily, all walks of life in the Netherlands have also thought of many ways. For example, in May 2013, more than 60 parties signed the National Technology Agreement 2020, which aims to adopt 12 common goals (such as training teachers in technical disciplines) between businesses, educational institutions and governments etc.) to improve the transition from technical education to technical occupations and reduce labor shortages in the technical sector.
Liang Gebi said that in all aspects of recruitment, how to create a female-friendly environment is very important. For example, when writing job descriptions, avoid using particularly masculine words, otherwise some female job seekers will subconsciously “stay at a distance”; in the follow-up interview or written test, increase the proportion of female interviewers or candidates to ensure that in the recruitment process There are more female perspectives.
Liang Gebi said: She will make a list that includes all the female employees in the group. Whenever there is an opportunity for promotion or exercise, she will consider assigning the appropriate female employees on the list, and try her best not to bury their talents.
In addition to this, lifelong learning attitudes are also important in the workplace – it is a catalyst for gender equality, as it creates the conditions for people to have more job options and reach their full potential.
For some women who have given up their careers because of their families, lifelong learning can help them re-enter the workforce after a career hiatus. The Netherlands has the fourth highest participation rate in lifelong learning in the EU (19%), and women (ages 25-64) are more likely than men to participate in education and training activities regardless of employment status.
Major Dutch companies also provide various learning programs for their employees, and female employees can take advantage of these opportunities to grasp the most cutting-edge knowledge and information. Take the lighting company Signify, for example. The “Lighting Academy” offered by the company provides comprehensive educational resources for those who want to expand their technical expertise: various electronic publications on lighting, webinar courses, and various Activity.
Signify Lighting Academy’s lighting teaching materials are provided by the world’s leading lighting experts and professionals. This not only lays the foundation for employees to have the essential skills needed for current and future employment, but also helps companies help employees improve weaknesses, increase employee satisfaction, and improve employee performance.
McKinsey & Company has pointed out in the report that if women can achieve a higher status in the Dutch labor market, it will likely bring significant opportunities for individuals, specific business sectors and the wider economy. Analysis shows that 230,000 women could be financially independent if they worked an average of 5 more hours per week; increasing employment opportunities for women and increasing recognition of their abilities could also be a solution to growing labour shortages in the healthcare, education and tech sectors key.
Likewise, a 2016 study of about 22,000 companies worldwide by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that as the number of women on corporate boards and executives increased, so did their profit margins.
Men’s presence as an ally in bridging the gender gap in the STEM workplace makes a lot of sense. According to Harvard Business Review, Jennifer Brown, a consultant on promoting diversity, believes that awareness of male allies is not on the same level as participation.
In her view, the level of engagement of male allies on the issue ranges from indifference (not very knowledgeable about gender issues) to aware (somewhat knowledgeable, but not actively engaged in addressing gender issues) to active (about this Issues are relatively well known, but only willing to work for gender equality when asked) to advocacy (habitually actively promoting gender-inclusive development). Therefore, it is important to try to motivate male allies and hone their skills to advance gender inclusion.
For male allies, they can also take the initiative to make adjustments, such as: patiently listening to women’s voices to increase mutual trust and respect; participating in activities that promote gender inclusion with a respectful attitude; avoiding changing efforts to promote gender inclusion into the packaging with its own label. Some male allies will fall into self-blame after learning about the gender gap, and they also need to actively adjust to this discomfort, further increase the interaction between the sexes, and establish a mutual partnership with women through more communication.
It is true that “gender inequality” itself will not remain unchanged. The scholar Ridgeway once said that changes in technology and socioeconomics can change the existing social order to a large extent, and the fundamental system of gender inequality can adapt to make it continue. .
Therefore, bridging the gender gap in the STEM field is not as simple as imagined. If we want to break through the status quo, we must adopt a long-term transformation method that adapts to the changes of the times. Let us wait and see.