As with everything going on in our current culture, the field of STEM careers is not impervious to calls for “diversity” and “equity.” Studies showing employment and pay gaps in men and women in STEM careers prompted the blaming of STEM as an institution that discriminates against women. Here’s a few thoughts:
Note: This post is informed by MY experiences and research in STEM and academia as well as the experiences of others in my real life.
Women can do it, they just choose not to. Finishing studies, passing boards, and getting credentials in STEM is enough proof that women do have the ability and cognition to succeed in these fields as students. Over time, women recognize that they can achieve their life goals without having to put up with the stresses of STEM careers. If they can achieve a comfortable lifestyle and have time to focus on their personal endeavors without being in demanding high-stress jobs, why would they remain in STEM?
A note: These studies would be more complete and thus helpful if they anonymously polled the women exactly why they left STEM and if they are planning on going back.
Choice is freedom. Women now have the choice to pursue their career of choice, whether that be STEM or non-STEM or homemaking. All these choices have their own difficulties and women are just picking their own difficult choice with the rewards most worth the investment.
Women can do things men (most likely) cannot do. Women are uniquely positioned to enter already prosperous or potentially prosperous situations by way of marrying men. Those who have sociable personalities coupled with an awareness of the role physical attractiveness plays in human interactions tend to leave STEM because they can get an equivalent or higher quality of life without the workplace stress and long hours.
If STEM was the only desirable choice, workplace hostility is tolerable. Sure there is some antipathy or microagressions or outright hostility towards women in STEM and I have had my fair share of it, but I refuse the believe that such tenacious women would let this be the reason they leave STEM. Curious enough is the narrative that it is only the men who are the perpetrators of such negative acts towards women. As someone who has been in such environments, I can report that women also have a hand in workplace negativity. The reality for women is that they find a better deal outside of STEM and they are using their ability to choose to leave it.
Individual choices = unequal distribution. The outcomes of letting people pursue their choices is imbalances throughout many fields as people are individuals, and hence, make individual choices. Different types of people with different interests and abilities will gravitate towards different careers.
STEM isn’t anti-women. Women leaving STEM does not necessarily mean that something needs to be fixed with STEM. The reason why it is in a category of its own is because it is characterized by objectivity and reproducibility. It is difficult and requires great investment of time and intellect. Since the rates of women graduating in STEM majors are similar to that of males and even outpaces male graduation rates in certain subsets of STEM, it is clear that women are just as capable. The thing is are they willing to commit to the time investment? For women who have a desire to build a family, taking herself out of family-building mode while pursuing a career has costs in itself in the form of missed opportunities to find a partner and a progressively shortening window of fertility. Many call for accommodations for young mothers such as subsidized daycare and more flexible works schedules. The thing is, in a free market, the reason why those things are yet to be normalized is that there are still plenty of male workforce willing and able to perform the roles women leave or fall back on during their child rearing years. Basically, if female STEM workers were of higher demand due to shortage of male STEM workers or if there was greater demand for total workers, we will see these pro-children policies implemented.
Why is the goal for STEM 50% women? Do we call for the same statistics in underwater welding? Or construction? Or logging? Why is there only a push for “equality” in high-prestige careers? Focusing on putting women in high-prestige positions associated with power is yet another manifestation of Marxist ideas where men are the oppressor group and women the oppressed.
I (a woman) am not oppressed. In general, I do not consider myself oppressed even though the contemporary culture, if I allowed it, would have labelled me as such. I can hardly call myself oppressed when it is men who pursue the high-risk and high-stress career, who perform the heavy manual labor, who face greater risk of workplace injuries, early death, depression, and suicide. I refuse to divide my home into the oppressor vs oppressed binary. First, because it does not reflect reality, and second, it accomplishes nothing but bitterness and other negative outcomes.
Diversity or tokenism? In the macro, what does this push for “diversity” mean? Why is it important that a woman build a bridge or discover a drug? Before you get offended, I am coming from a place of wonder because I already believe and have witnessed to be true that women are capable and intelligent. These I have learned through the women in my life. The focus on women accomplishing things is foreign to me because when my female cousins passed the medical bar exam ,their female-ness was not at the forefront of it. When the second female president of my birthplace turned out to be a crook, it wasn’t due to her failing as a woman, but as a human. I have yet to find a study relegating improvement of outcomes due to “diversity.” Sure, different people from different backgrounds have different contributions, but these differences are not 100% represented by either “diversity classifications” of sex or race. It is quite obvious that the push for keeping women in STEM careers is tokenism, not diversity. It is not pro-women at all to pressure women to stay in a career solely due to “smashing the patriarchy” when their time, efforts, and abilities can better be applied elsewhere to an endeavor of their choosing.
Men and women are equal, periodt. This push for women to be in certain high-prestige positions or careers is yet another reminder that the people who push such agenda do not yet believe that men and women are truly equal on the basis of worth as human beings. When this equality of worth has not yet been recognized, one assumes that this equality must pervade all aspects of life for this equality to be true. What we must see is that men and women are equal yet different.
From the multiple studies regarding the exodus of women from STEM, it is clear that women are exercising their right to choose. And what a wonderful things that is.
May we realize our inner strengths and use them to cultivate a beautiful life.
This we manifest.