Fixing the science gender gap
Feb 27, 2015 10:00 AM
All across the country, you hear politicians, educators and employers lament the shortage of “STEM” students. The competitiveness of the U.S. in fields of scientific discovery and innovation, in the health sciences and other areas, is in jeopardy. A recent issue of JAMA highlighted the rapid pace at which other nations are investing to build high skill workforces. In 2011, China outpaced the U.S. in numbers of life sciences patents filed.
At the same time, despite progress in the march toward equality, American women are sorely underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Women earn a majority, 57 percent, of all bachelor’s degrees, but represent a minority of undergraduates in computer science (18 percent), engineering (19 percent), physics (19 percent), and mathematics and statistics (43 percent). At the graduate student level, their ranks dwindle further.
The two issues are related. If half the population is less attracted to certain fields, our collective capacity in those areas is reduced. Some also argue that women bring unique leadership skills to the job, and not just the “soft skills” of collaboration and nurturing. So that it’s not just about having more high-skill workers, it’s about enhancing how successful they are, too.
Earlier this month at the Health Sciences, we hosted two events: Women in Technology Workshop and Science Power.
Women in Technology is a day-long workshop for high school girls, taught by Cindee Madison from Palo Alto, that uses tools like Twitter and the Python programming language to uncover gender differences in health and body images. Our session hosted over 50 girls from across Salt Lake and was supported by industry sponsors, with a dozen or so female faculty and graduate students in areas like biomedical informatics and medical imaging also volunteering their time to help out. By the end of the day, the common refrains were—“this was very cool” and “can I learn more coding?”
Science Power, organized by a cadre of enthusiastic medical students, brings middle school kids from all over the Salt Lake Valley in for a day of hands-on, interactive science activities.
Our mantra at the University of Utah is to be lifelong partners in health with our communities. Nurturing future generations (our young men and women) is how we can ensure that we’ll all be well looked after in the years to come.comments powered by Disqus