By Shariqa Iqbal and Prerna Shankar
2021 Governor's STEM Scholars
March 2021: Women’s History Month. This month is about celebrating women’s contributions to the world. This year’s theme is “Refusing to be Silenced”; appreciating all the women who have broken stereotypes and refused to be treated as lesser. When it comes to STEM, women aren’t as present in the field as men, and for a variety of reasons. In honor of STEM month, we refuse to be silenced when it comes to gender disparities in STEM.
Consider Katalin Karikó, Ph.D., a Hungarian-born biochemist, one of few women scientists that may be awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
If she wins, she would be one of only eight women to receive the honor in the prize’s 110 years.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, her revolutionary research is the backbone of the mRNA vaccines. Her work provides lifesaving protection to millions. Like her, there are millions of female innovators. However, these women make up a minute fraction of the men that have dominated the field.
Women in STEM are capable, yet a small part of them pursue careers in STEM— mainly due to a lack of female role models and inequalities between the sexes even from young ages. We, as young women of color who are interested in pursuing STEM, feel the public should know about our struggles as young women in STEM and elaborate on how to combat inequalities across STEM professions.
Many believe that there aren’t any gender inequities in STEM. If this were the case, representation in STEM would be equal.. The data simply says otherwise; for example, women only hold 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry.
We have been exposed to science from our youth, and understand the necessity for women to be exposed to STEM. It opens up opportunities for us to broaden our perspectives and innovate.
When we think of famous scientists, we think of Einstein, Darwin, Newton. Notice how no women are listed. Why don’t we think of Ada Lovelace, Jane Goodall, Katherine Johnson?
The key difference is that these women aren’t given the visibility they deserve. The achievements of men are exposed to us from a young age that we can list them off the top of our heads, yet we have to resort to Google searches to find notable women in STEM.
There’s a consistent pattern of boys dominating science classes and camps compared to girls. As high school STEM students, we’ve noticed this trend for years – even as early as elementary school.
There’s a real dichotomy of being inspired and excited by scientific thought and innovation while being iced out as the only woman in the group, left to sit alone at the literal and proverbial lunch table. It’s something that we’ve experienced, as have many young women exploring the sciences. This isolation is common in STEM careers: we often form cliques with like-minded people, ones who think, act, and look like us – and for kids, this often starts with gender. However, this just goes to show that it’s times like these where we’re forced to think about how alone women are in STEM.
This isn’t limited to us: in general, women’s interest in STEM declines when reaching high school. According to Girls Who Code, 74% of young girls in middle school express interest in STEM or computer science, but only 18% of computer science degrees are held by women. This indicates how drastically interest in STEM drops as young girls reach college: what discourages them from staying on that path? Is it the overwhelming male presence? The lack of role models? There are many factors that contribute to this drop, but this problem can be fixed.
There are issues concerning women in STEM workplaces, and there are things we can do to facilitate equality going forward.
Engaging girls from a young age by introducing STEM programs catered to them will allow them to get exposure from the beginning. Introducing female role models to girls from elementary to high school is also important; it gives us the confidence to pursue what we want to while knowing that others have paved the way for us to do so.
We will keep advocating for these changes for our fellow women in STEM. We will keep addressing these issues, so we can create opportunities to fix them going forward. The gender discrepancies we see today are no small matter, and we won’t back down when it comes to advocating for this cause.
We refuse to be silenced.
Shariqa Iqbal is a sophomore at the Academy for Biotechnology located at Mountain Lakes High School and a Parsippany resident. She aspires to enter the field of STEM and inspire other women to do so as well. Shariqa currently volunteers to tutor elementary-school children in science and mathematics. She has been working to ensure that the young girls they tutor are able to build confidence in their abilities in science and mathematics. Shariqa is a 2021 Governor’s STEM Scholar.
Prerna Shankar is a junior at North Hunterdon High School’s Biomedical Sciences Academy, where she studies in-depth topics related to the fields of medicine and health sciences. She is also the president and founder of the Brain Bee Club at North Hunterdon and was a finalist in the Princeton Brain Bee competition this year. Through volunteering and devoting her time to causes she cares about, she makes sure to give back to her community in any way possible. Prerna aspires to pursue neuroscience in the future while creating opportunities and awareness for women in the field. She is a 2021 Governor’s STEM Scholar.
The Governor’s STEM Scholars is a program of the Research & Development Council of New Jersey. It introduces New Jersey high school and college students to the State’s vast STEM economy. Applications are now open for the 2022 class of Governor’s STEM Scholars at www.govstemscholars.com.