Women Under-Represented in Math and Science Locally

Published 03/19 2014 06:02PM

Updated 03/19 2014 06:32PM

Big bang theory star, Mayim Bialik, recently spoke with KOLR10 about how she's encouraging young women to pursue careers in math and science.

National statistics show women tend to be underrepresented in fields like  science, technology, engineering, and math -- also known as STEM.  It turns out local universities like MSU and Evangel are observing similar statistics.

United States 2011 census data reveals that women make up about half of the workforce, but only about a quarter of the STEM workforce.  Despite this, there are some signs of improvement.

Women's presence in STEM fields has grown since the 1970s.  "It's moving in the right direction.  We're seeing more and more women go in," says Dr. Janice Greene, Biology Professor at Missouri State University.

This is partially thanks to female role models, like Kelsey Rumley.  She mentors high school girls interested in science.  "I also get to show them what they can be in a few years, tell them about my experience here at MSU, tell them about classes," says Rumley.

Women are still largely underrepresented in engineering and computer science.  Missouri State University's statistics resemble national statistics. "We follow a similar trend and i think the other place that we would have evidence of that trend is in the number of female faculty on campus, where we've seen a significant increase since the 70s," explains Dr. Tammy Jahnke, Dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences at Missouri State University.

Women are more equally represented in physical sciences, like chemistry.  However, they are not well represented in other areas of science.  "At Missouri State, women are most underrepresented in physics, computer science, and engineering," says Dr. Jahnke.  Women in computer science at MSU is notably lower than the national percentage.

One explanation for this deals with beliefs that have developed in our society over time.  "Historically women were discouraged from going into the sciences. Probably because of stereotypes of women's roles versus men's roles," explains Dr. Greene.

Dr. Greene researches why this is.   "We see that in many ways teachers treat the males and females differently in the classroom.  By asking males more thought provoking questions.  Females are asked easier questions," explains Dr. Greene.

Here's the problem.  "We have lost a huge percentage of the population for the creativity and the ideas. Those are lost, as well as not being able to fill positions," says Dr. Greene.

"It's also important to have a woman's perspective on things, so we can advance and progress in all fields of science," says Rumley.

Another myth that will inspire females is that males are better than females in math and science. Research shows that is not true.  Dr. Greene says our next focus is getting women to pursue advanced degrees in these fields.

We also spoke with Evangel University to see how women are represented in math and science related fields there.  Women had the best representation in fields like chemistry (60% female) and biology (70% female), and they were actually the majority.  Women are also largely underrepresented in pre-engineering (20% female) and computer science (15% female) at Evangel.

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