For the first time that I have noticed, people seem to be talking about women in science all over the place. First there was this article in the Daily about the dearth of women in computer science about a month ago. Then the Daily ran a column about the leaky pipeline and why women leave science and engineering. Last week, the WCC had a panel entitled “Women in Science and Engineering” to discuss just that problem. That same night, EAST house had a similar event. The Clayman Institute recently launched their website Gendered Innovations about their research into why gender matters in science and engineering.
I think it’s great that people are talking about women in science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM). Stanford has a reputation for being a techie school, and as the first article in the Daily points out, this country needs scientists and engineers, so it’s a shame that women are not represented in equal numbers. I definitely am very excited that people are talking about it.
But I think there is only so much talking will accomplish. It is the right first step, but wouldn’t be awesome if instead of just talking about it, we actually started doing something? At Carnegie Mellon, in 1995, 7% of the computer science majors were women. And they saw that as a problem, so they took definitive steps to change it, such as creating different tracks (which our CS department did a few years back), emphasizing that CS is not all anti-social programming, and generally just trying to support women as much as possible. By 2000, 42% of CS majors were women. If Carnegie Mellon could do that over 10 years ago, why can’t Stanford today? Furthermore, why can’t we do it in physics, and electrical engineering, and math, and every other field where there isn’t gender parity? Of course, this doesn’t fix the problem of the leaky pipeline, where capable women drop out when it comes time to go on to the next level. But seeing women in STEM will help encourage other women to stay in, so I think that should be a priority.
Conversations are great, and it’s how we let Stanford know that this is a problem, this is something we care about. But we need action, too. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about it, let’s talk about where the disparity comes from, and let’s keep supporting our fellow women in STEM.