When I started my undergraduate course in Chemical Engineering back in 2005, it hit me almost immediately that the distribution of men to women was about 80/20. I have to admit I’d never reflected much on gender equality before. Having grown up in Sweden (one of the most gender equal countries in the world1), inequality had never affected me much. With the exception of the ever present media biases and “boys will be boys” attitudes, I have had a lucky escape.
Entering the workplace a couple of years later (the same place I still work today), I was again very lucky. My colleagues couldn’t have been more diverse (gender and ethnicity) if you’d blindly picked them from each corner of the world. As a result, the inequalities I’ve come to know are through working away from home and the stories told by my friends, colleagues, online communities and the media. It’s been a wake-up call, and I’m slowly realising that even in the most diverse offices of the most diverse and progressive companies, us women have something working against us: the gender roles that are placed on us by society.
In the Western world today, women still only represent 24% of the STEM workforce2 and the women who work in these fields still earn overall a third less than men, at all income levels3. Why is it that the dropout rate for STEM subjects in school rise rapidly among girls when they enter secondary school? And at university, how come certain STEM orientated courses still see zero uptake of female students?
In the film Miss Representation from 20114, Marie Wilson, the founder and president emeritus of the White House Project5 said, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and although she was referring to how women are represented in media, this rings true for STEM as well. There aren’t enough female STEM leaders, managers and role models for girls at school to look up to and identify with when they’re making their choices about what they want to be when they grow up. This makes it all the more important for those of us who do work in these fields to be vocal and a stronger force for change.
Through this blog I want to be one of those voices, talking about the ups and downs of working in such a male dominated industry. I will write about the issues we face on a day to day basis, try and shed a bit more light on the problems but also help form part of the solutions. Being more vocal means standing up to inequality, speaking my mind and showing an example where women don’t have to just accept the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Working towards making STEM more attractive to young girls by breaking down boundaries and misconceptions is beneficial to future generations of women as well as the industry as a whole. I hope this blog will generate some interesting discussions and viewpoints, and I welcome you all to get involved.