Becoming what they wish they’d had: why lack of mentorship for women in science is a problem and a proposed solution

The Problem:

Many of the readings and speakers have suggested that one big problem for attracting girls and women to STEM is a lack of mentors or role models in the science, engineering, technology and math fields. For example in Women in Computing- Take 2, Dr Maria Klawe said, “It is widely recognized that declining interest in technical disciplines among female students starts at a young age. Therefore early-intervention efforts are important to ensure future increases in representation… expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere, given that the absence of such models has proven to be a deterrent.[1]In How Mentoring May Be The Key to Solving Tech’s Women Problem, Cassie Slane said, “One of the difficulties wit keeping women in technology is that there are few female mentors for them to look to.[2]” In Women’s Entrepreneurship by Kelley et. al. we learned that, “When people know entrepreneurs, such acquaintances offer the possibility for role models, networking, advice, and encouragement.[3]” These sources all express the need for more mentors for women in technology, especially more women mentors.

The Intended Goal:

My solution to this problem involves talking to and learning from young women in college, studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and getting their opinions and stories of their experiences as women in these fields, particularly in terms of mentorship or lack thereof. Using these stories, I will write an opinion piece describing the problem and suggesting a solution. The proposed solution would be for women of college age to notice this problem and notice that they can fix it by choosing to encourage or mentor someone younger than them who is interested in the field. Ideally, the most optimistic outcome would be for the piece to be shared widely, perhaps over social media, and for many to see it and start the movement. Realistically, not a large majority of college age students would read it, but perhaps a few would and would still be inspired to encourage and mentor someone else.

Becoming what they wish they’d had: why lack of mentorship for women in science is a problem and what can be done to solve it

 

Chloe Phea, Brigette Lee, and Christine Campbell are four students at Trinity University studying to become doctors and engineers. Each became interested in their field by watching a parent or other adult and aspiring to become like those they looked up to. Each agrees that women are equally capable to men in STEM fields, however they also agree that women are underrepresented.

Underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields is a problem with several key causes. One of these causes is the lack of mentorship by other women or lack of women role models to look up to in these fields.

According to Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College in California, “It is widely recognized that declining interest in technical disciplines among female students starts at a young age. Therefore early-intervention efforts are important to ensure future increases in representation… expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere, given that the absence of such models has proven to be a deterrent.”

Early intervention should mean as early as elementary school, where girls are introduced to science, math, and computers, and develop either a love or fear of these subjects.

But, these fields aren’t appealing to many young girls. Typically, the image you envision when you hear “computer scientist” is a nerdy, overweight, white guy who lives in his mom’s basement. This is no different for young girls. They don’t want this image. Speaking for myself, I can say that the people I looked up to and wanted to be like when I grew up were the cool “big girls”- the girls that babysat me, or coached me or volunteered at my elementary school. I would argue that these are the most appealing role models to young girls.

So, when these “cool big girls” are the college-age young women, they should be reaching out to the next generation and hoping to inspire the girls sitting in the seats where they once sat.

Junior biochemistry and molecular biology major Brigette Lee agrees that having other women as role models is important. She credits her mother as one of her most important role models and one reason why she became interested in science. “They are not only able to show that women can be competitive in the field, but they can also demonstrate how to balance professional life with personal/family life,” she said.” However, she also noticed that many of her professors are men, and that in classes with male professors, men are more participatory in class because women fear being seen as loudmouths.

Another science major, sophomore Christine Campbell is studying engineering. She says that “it is easier to relate to someone who is the same gender as you. If you don’t see yourself in your mentor or role model, it makes it harder to imagine yourself in that position.”

Sophomore neuroscience major Chloe Phea reinforces the importance and lack of mentors for women in science. She says “I have yet to meet a female neurosurgeon. Girls aspiring to be in science should be able to find themselves a female mentor.”

All of these women’s experiences echo the benefits and need of more women to be role models for those following in their footsteps.

One proposed solution would be for these women, who are realizing the importance of mentors and the discrepancy between mentors for men and women would be for them to take the initiative to become mentors for younger girls. There are many volunteer opportunities for facilitating these relationships. Women in college could inquire with local elementary schools about programs that allow older kids to mentor younger kids. They could encourage cousins or neighbors or friends’ younger siblings. There are tons of opportunities, young women just need to take them. Younger girls look up to older girls and if they see these young women succeeding while studying to become doctors and engineers, they may be inspired to do the same and not deterred for fear of having a negative or nerdy image. These women agreed and hope that others with similar experiences will too.

[1] Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). Women in computing- take 2. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68-69-76. doi:10.1145/1461928.1461947

[2] Slane, C. (2014, 10 April, 2014). How mentoring may be the key to solving tech’s women problem. Huffington Post Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cassie-slane/how-mentoring-may-be-the-_b_4717821.html

[3] Kelley et. al.Women’s entrepreneurship. (pp. 28-29-32)

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