There’s no reason to beat around the bush or sugarcoat it: STEM has a woman problem and it has for a while now. However, here’s a bit of good news: Stanford University recently announced that, for the first time in the university’s history, computer science is the top major for female students this year. Yeah, you read that right.
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Stanford University officials told Reuters that “214 women are majoring in computer science, accounting for about 30 percent of majors in that department.” Following directly behind computer science is human biology with 208 female majors, which was the most popular major for women previously.
This is definitely good news for the on-going fight for gender equality in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (collectively, STEM) fields. It’s estimated that only 18 percent of women earn degrees in computer science, but this figure isn’t low because women don’t want to go into computer science careers — because women actually do study it in college. Research shows that women end up veering in the direction of other career paths (typically more female-friendly ones, like in education) due to the unfortunate stereotypes and barriers that discourage women from wanting to pursue careers in STEM fields, particularly computer science. (Oh, and then there’s this ridiculousness that women face in STEM, too.)
STEM and the Gender Pay Gap
Another issue that is greatly affected by low representation of women in STEM careers is the infamous gender pay gap. Earlier this week, PayScale released its latest report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, which confirmed that pay inequity is still very real.
This time around, we found that the controlled gender wage gap (factoring in years of experience, skills, education, and company size, etc.) is 2.7 percent, or 97 cents for every dollar a man earns. Surprisingly, the tech industry now has the smallest controlled and uncontrolled gender pay gaps (1.4 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively), except at the executive level where the controlled gender pay gap is 5.6 percent.
The bottom line is, we need more women in STEM careers, which means we need to encourage and support more women to pursue an education in STEM. The news of female students at Stanford making computer science their major of choice is exactly the type of progress we need to obtain gender parity across all industries, not just computer science.
One of the reasons female representation in STEM is so meager is because there are so few female role models in these industries. With more women pursuing STEM degrees and, hopefully, continuing on to establish careers in STEM fields, we’ll see more female role models who will pave the way for younger generations of female STEM-hopefuls … and the cycle continues.
Tell Us What You Think
Are you a female student pursuing an education in STEM? If so, join the conversation happening over on Twitter and tell us about your experience, or feel free to leave a comment below.