By Joan Runnheim Olson
As a pioneer for women in nontraditional careers, I asked Marquita M. Qualls to share her thoughts on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers. This is part one in a two part series on this topic.
Why do you think STEM is important?
STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Whether we realize it or not, we all do some aspect of STEM in our daily activities. STEM is just as much about discovery (researching a cure for cancer) as it is application (using our smartphones and tablets). As we are becoming more technologically advanced, it is important that we have people trained in STEM fields to be competitive on a global economy. One misconception that I notice when we say we need more people trained in STEM is that it means that we need more lab scientists. However, STEM is more than laboratory science. A STEM job or career spans a broad spectrum including the policy makers in Congress, the journalist who report scientific discoveries, and the teachers who infuse the excitement of STEM in the minds of young learners.
In your opinion, why do you think there are so few women in STEM?
When we pose the question of why so few women, I think we need to make sure we are clear as to what field we are referring. There are several disciplines that comprise the STEM field, so it's a bit tricky to aggregate all of them together and conclude that there are few women in STEM. Granted, if we are talking about the physical and lab based research STEM practitioners, there is a noticeable gap between men and women.
Many women choose to pursue a family, and unfortunately the demands of these careers often do not support a healthy work/life balance. Things have improved in recent years in terms of employers providing policies and resources to support the needs of STEM women, but there is still much more work to be done. I've not seen any data or reports with an analysis of the demographics when all of the STEM and STEM related careers are taken into account. That's not to say that it hasn't been done... I've just not seen it. My guess, though, is that the gap may not be as wide as we thought when we consider STEM traditional and non-traditional roles.
Note: In my next blog post, Marquita will continue the conversation on STEM and share the role educators and counselors play in a student's career decision-making and more.