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Since time in memorial, women have been underrepresented in science and various fields. This underrepresentation in science happens to be an issue in all over the world. Studies in both first world and third world countries show that women have an alarmingly low representation in the sciences. Underrepresentation of women in science is viewed by many people as a classical example of how women are sidelined when it comes to development. Women are underrepresented in many aspects not just in science. Most leaders whether in business or in government are men. This trend has been firmly maintained over centuries and even today.
One of the main factors that result in such small numbers of women in leadership positions is education. Education is argued by many as the best thing any parent or guardian can give their children. Education has many fields science being one of them. Inadequate education of girls and young women results in generations of women who are not properly equipped to take up leadership positions. These women then get the mentality that they only have specific roles in society and that they don't belong in science related fields. Women learn to accept that leadership is for their male counterparts. This creates a major problem for the young generations of women because they lack women mentors and role models. This shows that education is the greatest way to change the current situation for the better.
Various reports like Smart (2008) have analyzed the representation of women in science. The analysis showed that by the year 2001, were earning 48% of bachelor's degrees and 29% of PhD degrees. This information was a major improvement compared to the previous 30 years. Women's representation among editorial boards in science and awards panels saw similar gains (Pitch, 2007). However, even though women made such an improvement, they are still faced by major obstacles. Women still remain greatly underrepresented in faculty appointments. . Women were reported to have earned 31.3% of chemistry PhD degrees in 2003, but only 21.5% of these women were hired for assistant professors.
There are very many heated debates that try to explain the cause of these disparities. Very strong arguments which are backed by adequate research have been put forward to explain the underrepresentation of women. Some of the major theories are sexism, lack of interest compared to men and lack of ability to succeed in science. Others argue that science, technology, engineering and mathematics related courses which are normally referred to as STEM courses are not in line with the core goals of women. They argue that women are perfectly able to undertake these courses but choose not to because of preference. These core goals are community based; they include a lot of social interaction and a genuine need to help people (May, 2008).
STEM courses however, are viewed by many women as solitary and have minimal social interaction. Studies that were conducted on the subject showed that when young men and women were probed on career options, women went for more care related paths than men. Women were said to have communal goals that involve intimacy, serving others, helping and spirituality. Women view people in STEM courses as lone scientists who spend most of their time alone engaged in their projects. However, this is very ironical because research in these STEM related courses holds the key to helping millions of people through various discoveries and inventions. From this observation is important for teachers and instructors to explain the positive impacts that science and technology has on the community (Wyer, 2008).
Sexism has many definitions; it can be described as discrimination or hatred for one gender. For our case sexism is the application of the stereotypes of femininity to women. For many years the stereotype for women has been that there only role in society in child bearing and rearing. This stereotype has prevailed in many cultures across the globe. A sad observation is that women and young girls have been made to believe these stereotypes. When young girls grow up with this mentality, it affects their choices in career and study options. The effect of sexism starts as early as grade school. This happens when the education system has sexist stakeholders like the administration and teachers. Boys receive more attention and praise in the classroom. As a result, female students end up participating less in class because they feel that they are less appreciated. This lack of participation and feeing neglected can adversely affect their grades. Female students are also encouraged to major in courses that are not science related. These courses were referred to as courses for the weaker sex or courses for lesser minds (Blanpain & Numhauser-Henning, 2006).
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Sexism occurs in many areas of life not only in the field of education. When it comes to the work place women are constantly subject to discrimination. Some studies have demonstrated that in some universities female researchers don't get their work published simply because of their sex. For those who publish, they do it secretly not revealing the gender of the researcher. Women eventually shy away from research because of such treatment. In work places women who do the same jobs as men get less pay for no reason other than gender? A recent study showed that there were more male CEOs and more overweight male CEOs. Women who are more qualified did not get this top position simply because the management prefers a male leader. In the issue of obesity or being overweight women were more harshly judged. It is also a well known fact that it is much harder for women to join the military service, in some countries women are not even allowed to join the army until recently. Voting rights for women are also a new thing in some countries. However, there are uglier sides to sexism these include rape and domestic violence (Ceci & Williams, 2007).
Lack of interest is another factor that has been considered as a cause of underrepresentation of women in the scientific field. It has been a controversial point because those who argue for or against it make strong arguments. There are those who claim preference is greatly influenced by the environment and that it is a learned characteristic. To make their arguments they refer to research that was carried out in a museum and recorded. Children asked their parents questions regarding what they saw at the museum. An observation was made that both boys and girls were equally interested in the displays. The difference was that when they asked questions, the parents gave more feedback to the questions from the boys. It is these small things that parents or guardians do inadvertently, that will end up affecting the interest of girls in science. Research showed that while 5 year olds or 7 year olds can show clear gender preference a 2 year old does not. This proved that when boys choose more technical toys to play with and girls pick up dolls, this doesn't mean that the girls have no interest in trucks, it is just what the environment has led them to. However, those who argue that girls tend not to have interest in science and in science related activities also have a strong point. According to research even girls who have grown up in neutral environments, will want to pursue care oriented careers (Smart, 2008).
The view that lack of ability is a factor that contributes to underrepresentation in science has been viewed as misogynistic. Those supporting the argument claim that some women in the STEM fields end up getting a lot of help from their male counterparts in order for them to be efficient. The major issue that people need to focus on is how to reduce this underrepresentation of women in science. Governments need to take the lead role in this fight. A good example is the recent initiative by US president Barrack Obama called 'Innovate to Educate. Innovate to educate is an initiative that seeks to increase the involvement of women and minorities in STEM related fields. Governments have been advised to put in place tougher penalties for those who discriminate against women. The education systems should also be reviewed so as to encourage women to venture into the STEM fields (Hugh, 2006).
Parents and guardians also need to be educated on the sensitive role they play in their children's lives. They should be encouraged to be neutral and to encourage their children's interests. However, use of affirmative action to curb underrepresentation of women is controversial. Many argue that affirmative action ends up negatively affecting the boy child. Young men who are equally or more qualified than their female counterparts, miss great opportunities simply because of their gender. Male activists claim that if women want to be treated fairly they also have to play fairly by not getting any special treatment because of their gender.
Universities have a major role to play. The major way to do this is by changing their policies. They need to create positive work environments in the departments and all other levels including research. Many policies can be changed to support women, but the ball lies in their court. Women have to fight their own battle at the end of the day and fight harder when it comes to science.