In South Africa, women make up the majority of enrollments in universities. However, many of these female students still stay clear of courses in engineering, science, and construction. After university it doesn’t get much better as only 40% of South Africa’s scientists, engineers and technologists are women.
So then why is it that there are so few women that end up entering into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields?
STEM is not for women
One of the reasons why women don’t go into STEM fields is because they are seen as “only for men.” This perception is enforced by stereotypes that say that women shouldn’t enter into the sciences and that women aren’t good at science and math.
These stereotypes can develop a fear for young girls of these subjects – which then later limits their career options. This may be why women tend to choose more gender defined fields, such as health and welfare.
According to a 2012 study on the Status of South African Women in the Economy, the top field that women enrolled in was in services at 79.3% – while science was at 49% and engineering at 28.5%.
Lack of role models
Many young women don’t have the role models needed to inspire them to enter into these fields. For example, girls will hardly see women doing jobs that involve science, technology, engineering, and maths – especially on television programs. Children’s programs also rarely feature women actually doing anything scientific.
This lack of representation as well as mentorship programs could be some of the reasons why young women never develop an interest in these fields. Just by seeing the successes of the women around them could be enough to inspire them into entering STEM fields.
An all boys club
Another issue that prevents more women from entering these fields is that they generally dominated by men. This can create issues for women in a number of ways, such as women feeling invisible to senior managers, feeling less supported and losing out on positions of power and influence to their male colleagues.
There is also a huge problem with sexism in academics and in the workplace. For example, in academics, female authors will sometimes have to find a man to work with if they want their paper to be accepted.
It’s not always easy being a woman in STEM. There are often barriers placed there by colleagues and learning institutions that prevent women from contributing fully. However, the more women that enter into these fields, the more they will change and the better places they will be for women in the future.