If you work in academia, particularly in fields such as Physics and Mathematics, what percentage of your class are constituted by females? 30%? 15%? Or worse - 5%?
If we look at the above data which shows the number of people accepted to Cambridge University gender-wise, we see that there are very few women in fields such as Computer Science, Mathematics, Engineering. In STEMM, most women choose fields like Biology & Medicine. In this data, these come under natural sciences, which also includes Chemistry & Physics. Unfortunately, we do not have separate data for Physics but, it is common in universities to have few women in Physics. So, where are all the women?
Many people think women are just not interested in Physics, Mathematics, Engineering & Computer Science, and think that it is odd for a girl or a woman to be interested in or passionate about things like Calculus, space, Quantum Mechanics and machinery.
There is also a common stereotype that women are bad at Math, Physics, CS, and other technical fields. But here is a fact - in 2020, out of the 35,025 students who took A-level physics, 27,020 were male, and 8,005 were female. Although females were the significant minority, they outperformed the males on A*s at A-levels - while 16.3% of males achieved A*s, 19.5% of girls achieved A*s.
So women are just as capable as men in such male-dominated fields. However, if we look at the A-levels, many females drop out of these subjects. The reason is that they are often discouraged by the people around them.
At the work level, there are, again, fewer women in these fields. But in this case, there are a few more reasons coming into play. Women are perceived to be soft-spoken & polite, and assertive females are often discriminated against. They can be paid less, not offered promotions, and are less likely to get a raise merely because of their gender. The other major problem women face in male-dominated STEM fields is sexual harassment.
However, on an optimistic note - things are improving. Did you know that in Iran, 60% of undergraduate and graduate students in physics were women in 2015? This increase of women in physics is a result of families investing in the education of girls and national policies. In Albania, only one university supports physics doctoral students - the University of Tirana. At the graduate level, the percentage of women was 70% in 2012, up nearly 30% from the prior year.
If countries like Iran could do it, highly developed countries & developing countries can also try. We are losing many females with genuine talent in these fields; therefore, it is necessary to retain them for our society's development. So what can we do? If you are a teacher, do encourage your students; they need it. If you are a female student aspiring to get into these fields, do not hold back. Continue to strive for excellence and empower other females. Advocate for yourself, and this way, it is possible to increase the number of women in male-dominated STEM fields.
"If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off... no matter what they say." -Barbara McClintock, cytogeneticist and winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a proud INTJ who is passionate about Cosmology and Theoretical Physics (Especially Quantum Gravity). Being a STEM enthusiast and an amateur writer, I founded STEM 4 Everyone last year, which combine my two passions. Apart from writing and STEM, I also like to research, solve puzzles, learn new languages (I currently know 4 and I am learning 2) , and to travel.