Women have always played key roles in science and technology careers, from the women whose code and calculations got us to the moon
to famous figures like Marie Curie and, later, her daughter Irene, both Nobel Prize winners. Still, despite these famous groundbreakers, women continue to struggle to find their footing in STEM jobs, and the challenges are largely the same as they were in the past. Women in these industries must break through these 3 common barriers - though we hope one day soon they won't have to.
Education Discrimination Starts Early
In order for women to thrive in STEM careers, they need to have the proper educational foundations, but the classroom is also where women's exclusion starts. In computer science, for example, fewer women earn bachelor's degrees
than in the 1980s. As a result, the number of women working in the field has also declined.
Research has traced the declining number of women in computer science back to introductory computer science courses, but because of how few women work in computer science, a lack of mentors is also a problem. Building earlier educational support for women interested in coding and related work could go a long way towards increasing women's involvement in computer science as well as other STEM fields.
Overcoming Environmental Issues
While childcare is more evenly distributed between partners than it was in the past, for women in STEM jobs that require field work, environmental issues and work-life balance are more likely to hold them back compared to their male peers. After all, you can't come home to your kids at the end of the day if you're measuring an ice shelf in the Arctic or cataloguing birds on a far-off island, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have the choice to explore those roles anyway. Unfortunately, many women find they're held back or discouraged from pursuing field work or are harassed by male colleagues as lone women out in the field
. Still, women have come up with creative strategies to push the limits of their field.
One such woman who refuses to let work and family interfere with each other is paleontologist Jacqueline M. Richard. Professor Richard has taken part in numerous digs
and when she heads out into the field, her two children often join her. Certainly, this isn't always possible, but a paleontology dig isn't a chemistry lab, and many industries have pursued creative solutions to provide employees with improved work-life balance. STEM careers shouldn't be any different.
When Funding Fails
Finally, when it comes to women in STEM, particularly those trying to develop startups, many struggle to get a foot in the door with funders
who discount women's contributions. Unlike traditional sciences, in which teams apply for a variety of grants, for those pursuing technical product development the competition is primarily for private funds. This makes for tough competition and funders can discriminate against women-led ventures without recourse.
The good news is, as women push to succeed in these fields, the infrastructure is growing up around them. Non-profits like Women Who Tech provide events, funding, and guidance for women in the startup world and emphasize the inclusion of women of color, while partnering with major industry names. Having this sort of institutionalized leadership makes a big difference in women's ability to succeed, and most fields have some version of it, though few have had the impact of Women Who Tech.
We're Just Getting Started
When it comes to the ways that women are excluded from the STEM professions, these barriers are just the tip of the iceberg, but it's not all bad news. In most fields, women are making huge strides, both in terms of representation and the degree of success attained, and discrimination has only been a talking point for the last several decades.
It will take time to break down a centuries' old boys club, but women are making headway every day.
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, TheNextWeb.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.