We have failed to provide opportunities for women to have careers in and contribute as much as they could to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This is not just disenabling for women, but deprives our wider society of their valuable contributions in these critical fields.
A while back I encountered an instance in a book I was working on that replaced STEM with STEAM in discussing promoting opportunities for women. The ‘A’ was for Arts.
But we do not have a critical lack of participation in the arts by women. Women are not culturally excluded from and weeded out of the Arts to the grievous disadvantage of themselves and society. If anything women have historically been relegated to arts and crafts dismissively.
Certainly a lack of women’s participation in arts is not a serious limiting factor in our overall prosperity and ability to deal collectively with the challenges we face as a planet. But a lack of women in STEM subjects is.
Today I was listening to a good interview on BBC Inside Science with professor Linda Scott, author of The Double X Economy. I was surprised to hear her say that we only see a lack of women in STEM because of a narrow definition of Sciences in this context. Setting aside that this idea ignores Technology, Engineering and Maths, her argument was that it was wrong to just think of the Physical Sciences, and that lots of women dominate ‘other’ sciences.
Firstly I doubt that a majority of senior people in many science fields are women. That is the central problem we are generally discussing. But even were this women-in-different-sciences (and I regret that what she was referring to was mainly psychology) idea were true, the physical sciences are kind of the point in relation to Technology, Engineering and Maths. By her own argument women disappear out of a leaky pipe as they go along in these specific fields. And that is a terrible waste of human capital.
Just like throwing Arts in with STEM, throwing Social Sciences in with the Physical Sciences misses the point. Women have not been excluded from painting, performing arts, social work or careers as therapists. They have been, are being, weeded out of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Technology, Engineering and Maths. STEM subjects are survival critical and society cannot afford this squandering of opportunity and talent in these specific areas. It is important not to lose sight of that fact.