14 votes

The more gender equality, the fewer women in STEM

13 comments

  1. [3]
    lakhs_24
    Link
    This article explores the phenomenon that many nations with less gender equality have a higher percentage STEM graduates being women (such as UAE, Turkey) whereas those with more gender equality...

    This article explores the phenomenon that many nations with less gender equality have a higher percentage STEM graduates being women (such as UAE, Turkey) whereas those with more gender equality (e.g. Sweden, Finland, Norway) have fewer women in STEM. The article proposes that the reason for such a trend could be that women in less gender-equal countries are preferring to pursue the clearest path towards financial freedom regardless of whether STEM is their greatest strength/preferred career.

    The research finds that while girls have similar abilities to boys in STEM subjects, in many countries it is the case that girls are stronger at other subjects, such as reading. Thus, countries "that empower women also empower them, indirectly, to pick whatever career they’d enjoy most and be best at."

    This is an interesting paper which highlights the differences in gender demographics in STEM in various countries, and proposes reasons why this somewhat counterintuitive trend may be apparent. The article does mention that the low numbers of women entering STEM in western countries may not be solely due to preference, saying that "the percentage of girls who excelled in science or math was still larger than the number of women who were graduating with STEM degrees. That means there’s something in even the most liberal societies that’s nudging women away from math and science, even when those are their best subjects."

    There is also an archive version here.

    8 votes
    1. vektor
      Link Parent
      Yup. Anecdotally, there's a lot of highly skilled Iranian women coming into western countries with e.g. CS degrees. I don't know why the Iranian government would let them study CS, but it's not...

      The article proposes that the reason for such a trend could be that women in less gender-equal countries are preferring to pursue the clearest path towards financial freedom regardless of whether STEM is their greatest strength/preferred career.

      Yup. Anecdotally, there's a lot of highly skilled Iranian women coming into western countries with e.g. CS degrees. I don't know why the Iranian government would let them study CS, but it's not only a path to financial independence but also to, ya know, to GTFO.

      To clarify, there's lots of skilled people migrating all over the place. The reason I picked out Iran is that, again anecdotally, Iranian immigrants into my sphere are mostly women.

      6 votes
    2. JXM
      Link Parent
      That makes sense. There has been a concentrated focus on making STEM fields more accessible and friendly to women, whereas many other fields haven't had that type of effort yet. I'm sure this has...

      The article proposes that the reason for such a trend could be that women in less gender-equal countries are preferring to pursue the clearest path towards financial freedom regardless of whether STEM is their greatest strength/preferred career.

      That makes sense. There has been a concentrated focus on making STEM fields more accessible and friendly to women, whereas many other fields haven't had that type of effort yet. I'm sure this has made an impact even in counties where the gender equality gap is still large, since the scientific community is a lot less insular than other industries. So even if you live in a place where women are unequal, the STEM field still might have been opened up more to them.

      But if you live somewhere that allows a women to basically do whatever she wants career-wise, they have a lot more choice in what they want to do with their life.

      That means there’s something in even the most liberal societies that’s nudging women away from math and science, even when those are their best subjects.

      There are tons of other non-STEM fields that women can pursue that use math and science though. Teaching, technical writing, or even a STEM adjacent field like architecture all come to mind.

      1 vote
  2. [4]
    eladnarra
    Link
    Maybe the proposed reasons for this phenomenon are correct, but I can't help thinking back to the recent article shared here on Tildes about sexual harassment in Nintendo North America. Gender...

    Maybe the proposed reasons for this phenomenon are correct, but I can't help thinking back to the recent article shared here on Tildes about sexual harassment in Nintendo North America.

    Gender equality may feel solid in the US on paper, but when you hear stories like that or experience them first hand, it's not enouraging, to say the least. It's hard to enjoy STEM when dealing with managers who pass you over for promotions or colleagues that post sexual memes in work chats... Or worse. So maybe in countries where there are more opportunities for women, the risk of harassment and discrimination in male-dominated STEM fields is often greater than the benefit of higher wages or their desire to work in STEM, while in places with less opportunities, the balance tips in the other direction. If you face discrimination no matter the field you choose, why not go with a higher paying one/the one you'll enjoy?

    And while it is the general consensus in the US that "girls can do anything they want," that's not active encouragment. I think I've mentioned this before, but it took me until more than halfway through my bachelor's degree to be exposed to programming enough to realize I really liked it.

    8 votes
    1. [2]
      eladnarra
      Link Parent
      An intriguing study along these lines, although I don't have access to the full version: Gender Equity in College Majors: Looking Beyond the STEM/Non-STEM Dichotomy for Answers Regarding Female...

      An intriguing study along these lines, although I don't have access to the full version: Gender Equity in College Majors: Looking Beyond the STEM/Non-STEM Dichotomy for Answers Regarding Female Participation

      Combining newly gathered data on students’ perceptions of college major traits with data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), we find that perceived gender bias against women emerges as the dominant predictor of the gender balance in college majors. The perception of the major being math or science oriented is less important.

      (Found referenced in this rebuttal to an earlier study similar to the one being discussed.)

      3 votes
      1. eladnarra
        Link Parent
        Oh, wait, the rebuttal I linked is to the actual study being discussed in the Atlantic article. This is what I get for reading things too early in the morning. All of these articles are from 2018!...

        Oh, wait, the rebuttal I linked is to the actual study being discussed in the Atlantic article. This is what I get for reading things too early in the morning. All of these articles are from 2018! I mistakenly thought the Atlantic article was relatively new.

        The paper in question, The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education actually had a correction issued in 2019, after the original Atlantic piece was published. There's a lot here, but one thing stuck out to me in particular:

        In the first paragraph of the Discussion section (pp. 590–591), the last sentence is being changed as follows:

        Further, our analysis suggests that the percentage of girls who would likely be successful and enjoy further STEM study was considerably higher than the propensity of women to graduate in STEM fields, implying that there is a loss of female STEM capacity between secondary and tertiary education.

        So what exactly are we talking about? The paper admits girls who would enjoy STEM are likely dropping out of it, so it can't simply be for lack of interest. Man, I'm annoyed with myself for wasting my time on this.

        3 votes
    2. EgoEimi
      Link Parent
      That presumes that discrimination is equal in all fields. In conservative countries, certain jobs are culturally sanctioned for women, like teaching, nursing, childcare, etc. Women working in...

      If you face discrimination no matter the field you choose, why not go with a higher paying one/the one you'll enjoy?

      That presumes that discrimination is equal in all fields. In conservative countries, certain jobs are culturally sanctioned for women, like teaching, nursing, childcare, etc. Women working in those fields likely face little discrimination as it'd be expected that they'd be working in those fields anyway. Women entering male-dominated jobs like engineering in a country that already sanctions gender segregation would likely face discrimination that's far fiercer than any liberal country.

      And I highly doubt that gender messaging in any liberal western country would be harsher than in conservative countries like the UAE, Indonesia, Tunisia, and Algeria, which boast the highest rates of women among STEM graduates.

      Which makes this a very perplexing paradox and points to other hidden cultural factors beyond only discrimination.

      My hypothesis is:

      • In western liberal countries, all segments of society—liberal and conservative—send their children to seek tertiary education in large numbers.
      • The conservative countries shown having high rates of women among STEM graduates also have relatively low tertiary education attainment rates to begin with. It's possible that it's primarily the liberalized, more westernized, more affluent segments of society that send their children to tertiary education, whereas the conservative and (more) religious segments of society are significantly less likely to send their children to tertiary education in the first place; and those children will instead engage in agricultural or factory work.
      2 votes
  3. [5]
    skybrian
    Link
    Keep in mind that STEM is a somewhat of a fake category that includes a lot of diversity. Someone with a CS degree who goes into industry is going to face different problems from a graduate...

    Keep in mind that STEM is a somewhat of a fake category that includes a lot of diversity. Someone with a CS degree who goes into industry is going to face different problems from a graduate student who is dependent their faculty advisor and has to get published. That’s also a different experience from what medical students and doctors face. And even within medicine, there are lots of differences between roles. Doctors and nurses and other medical staff may work together but they are different careers.

    Also, among CS industry jobs, some sectors like computer games are notorious for treating workers badly with frequent “crunch time,” as well as a lot of stories about women being treated badly, at least at some video game companies. I would even be uncomfortable generalizing about finer categories that I know about like “bay area Internet startups” or “big tech companies” because the companies I worked at had different cultures, and I only worked at one big tech company. Even within a large company there are big differences between teams.

    I know less about scientific careers but I think field-specific gender imbalances are fairly different?

    And that isn’t even taking into account the differences between countries. I’d guess that every country has doctors, but the challenges they face are different in each country. And not every country even has a game industry, for example. STEM is going to mean a different mix of jobs in each place.

    So it’s not clear that any broad generalization that we can make about “STEM jobs” can be meaningful for the life choices of any one person, or to what needs to be done at any given industry or organization. Sure, you can make abstract statements. With a lot of work, maybe even show that they are true. But are they useful?

    4 votes
    1. [4]
      lou
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      It seems to me that the concern with gender representation in STEM comes from a perception that it is a male dominated field, regardless of the specific job titles and its particular...

      It seems to me that the concern with gender representation in STEM comes from a perception that it is a male dominated field, regardless of the specific job titles and its particular circumstances. Given the similar abilities and inclinations across genders, it stands to reason that something closer to 50/50 should be expected.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        Sure, many people are concerned about this and the study is relevant to that concern. I think this study is suggestive that expecting gender balance to be 50/50 everywhere (substitute a more...

        Sure, many people are concerned about this and the study is relevant to that concern. I think this study is suggestive that expecting gender balance to be 50/50 everywhere (substitute a more complicated statement including trans people) isn’t necessarily a realistic expectation, and a gender imbalance is only weak evidence that something is wrong.

        But then when you get any more specific, the study can only be weak evidence of anything. General, international facts about STEM don’t help you much to explain gender imbalance at one school or one company. It gives you a weak prior, but then you need to gather more evidence.

        2 votes
        1. papasquat
          Link Parent
          I think this conversation gets into an extremely broad one about gender roles, sexual dimorphism, and the degree that cultural expectations shape those things. Ultimately, I don't think we'll ever...

          I think this conversation gets into an extremely broad one about gender roles, sexual dimorphism, and the degree that cultural expectations shape those things.

          Ultimately, I don't think we'll ever get to a place where men and women are the same, want the same things, or have the same interests and goals in general. I also don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. For instance, a lot of women's (in general, not always) arithmetic when choosing a career is how that career interacts with having a family early on, because women have a biological constraint that requires if they want to have biological children, the best time to do it is in the first 1/3rd of their lives. That's a consideration men may have too, but it's not as front and center, and it's not nearly as hard set by biological realities. That factor alone has hugely impactful follow-on effects with regards to people making decisions about their career choice or their priorities, and pretending that they don't, or somehow shouldn't, is at best naive, and materially destructive to people's happiness.
          There are hundreds of little differences between men and women like that. Some are biological, some are societal. Some are unfair, some are just merely different, and some are hard facts that set by biology which can't be changed.

          I think the best outcome we can do is to constantly examine bias, and fix instances where certain areas are hostile to a certain gender identity and work to fix that to try to make all of society as fair as it can possibly be. At that point, you need to kind of just let the chips fall where they may. Aiming with an exactly 50/50 distribution of gender in every industry is just going to cause a ton more harm to people for no real reason. It's a completely arbitrary goal.

          5 votes
      2. nukeman
        Link Parent
        Anecdotal, but my college major (chemical engineering, at a 60/40 tech school) was about 50/50 men/women. Electrical and computer engineering was more like 75/25. It does seem like long term...

        Anecdotal, but my college major (chemical engineering, at a 60/40 tech school) was about 50/50 men/women. Electrical and computer engineering was more like 75/25. It does seem like long term trends are moving toward 50/50 (or higher in cases like bio).

        1 vote
  4. sleepydave
    (edited )
    Link
    This is a topic I've always been hesitant to talk about since my male opinion on women's career choices really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but I've always wondered why people...

    This is a topic I've always been hesitant to talk about since my male opinion on women's career choices really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but I've always wondered why people thought the gender disparity in STEM fields was because of a lack of accessibility to women?

    10-15 years ago there was a (relatively) big activist push for support programs for women in STEM and K-12 educational outreach to get more girls on board from an early age that ended up bringing many organisations like Girls Who Code into the world, but if women/girls in general aren't interested in a STEM career no number of outreach programs could really "fix" that. These organisations often have enough difficulty just getting girls interested in the first place - obviously it's a very nuanced topic, every woman is an individual etc. but sometimes the perceived problem (gender disparity in a given field) isn't really a problem so much as a difference between men and women as a whole.

    In western society women skew toward administrative & service roles just like men skew toward technical & trade roles - it's not that men don't have the means to be entering anything other than STEM or trade careers, maybe they don't want to and that's okay. Hot take: people might even be comfortable or wanting to generally stay within the bounds of their gender norms?

    The article also makes a good point about western women being in more of a position to choose a career based on their passions rather than prowesses - or it might rather be that men are typically in a position where the societal expectation is that they will be the provider, and therefore our career choices need to be more rooted in financial stability/security in order to prepare for having the typical dependent family structure in our lives. Could be some combination of the two or any number of things, but I don't think lack of access has ever been a significant barrier for women in STEM.

    Just some rambling thoughts I've had for a while, there are many fields I'd love to see more equal distribution of demographics in but I think people trend toward their gender/racial/cultural stereotypes far more often than they realise. If only one in five women are interested in pursuing STEM or other technical/trade fields then is it really anyone's place to say that's inherently bad or "not feminist enough"?

    *Minor grammar edits

    3 votes