CHALLENGES FACED BY WOMEN IN STEM
Written by Janet Agayo
Women empowerment is advocated for to enable women realize their self-worth, have the ability to influence decisions and have access to opportunities. As an environmental engineer, I believe that one of the effective ways to achieve this is by advocating for women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), since we are shifting from the traditional ways of doing things to more technical and advanced ways and women contribute to more than half the population. Just how often do we hear of discussions and topics that touch on women in STEM?
Well, as early as the age of 8 I knew I wanted to pursue a career in Engineering. I loved math and sciences from school, got motivation from my dad (who wasn’t an Engineer) but who time and again told me I could be one and took the initiative to guide me through. Was it easy getting where I am as a graduate Engineer? Oh, well, it wasn’t as hard. I had the privilege of being educated and at the same time got immense support from my father. However, throughout working to achieve this goal, I’ll admit I never once came across a female Engineer. When we got to college, it became even more real to me
that this was indeed a male dominated field! The ratio of men to women in the department was so huge and I couldn’t help but ask myself if I had made the right choice.
Some of the setbacks to women in this industry include;
1. Gender Stereotype
One of the major challenges is gender stereotype. Engineering is known to be a male dominated field. It is a technical hence viewed as masculine making women to tend to shy from it. Most don’t even believe they can make it in such a field.
2. Engineering Culture
The working conditions for most Engineering jobs tend to be unfavorable for women as it involves long period of time away from home. Women find it hard to get back to the workforce as they are the ones who take breaks to offer caregiving to family. Creating a culture that supports good work-life balance would be critical for women in STEM. Studies show that more female Engineering graduates tend to quit and change their careers along the way compared to men.
3. Lack of adequate mentorship
There’s lack of adequate mentorship for young girls as they grow. Society tends to push the girl child towards developing interest in arts and boys towards sciences. This results in lower rate of females enrolling for Engineering programs hence the disparity of women to men Engineers in the workforce. Successful women in STEM need to come out and offer mentorship to young girls who want to take the same courses. According to Engineers Board of Kenya, only 7.3% of registered Engineers are women.
4. Harassment and Intimidation
Men also feel intimidated by women in these spaces which should not be the case. This makes them harass and demotivate women who want to be or are already in STEM. Female engineers face challenges of not being taken seriously by their male counterparts who look down upon them. In advocating for women in STEM, men need to be involved to encourage their sisters and daughters that yes it is doable.
The ancient thinking that STEM is for men needs to be done away with. Women have taken up spaces in entertainment and other industries so well. The same can happen in STEM. Women play a critical role in diversifying STEM by including their ideas and designs in providing smart sustainable solutions for challenges faced by mankind as more than half of the population is women.