When you’re in high school, choosing a college major can be difficult. It wasn’t until late into my junior year that I decided to major in journalism with the aim of becoming a sports journalist.
Positions in journalism are already shrinking daily, making it more difficult for me, as a woman, to walk into the male-dominated field of sports. But that won’t stop me from chasing my dream.
And as I prepare to finish high school, I find more and more of my female peers similarly pushing the career envelope, except when it comes to STEM.
That’s science, technology, engineering and math– fields that account for some of the fastest growing and most lucrative job opportunities today. Still, just one in seven engineers are women, while only about 10 percent of software engineers are female, according to Forbes.
One of the most common stereotypes I hear as to why there are so few women in STEM is that they excel at English and social sciences, while boys are good at math and science. Women are often still encouraged to pick “caring” careers like nursing, and boys are pushed to become scientists and doctors.
But in the classrooms I’ve been in, girls have often outperformed boys in science and math. And it’s not just my classrooms, according to a study released earlier this year by the University of Missouri that surveyed 1.5 million 15-year olds worldwide.
Which begs the question, if women are doing better academically in STEM classes, where are women in STEM careers?
Despite the dismal numbers, things are changing, thanks in part to efforts by schools, companies, and non-profits like Girls Who Code, which is working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering fields.
Girls in Engineering, Math and Science, or GEMS, are more common now in high schools, and they are helping girls understand that they can pursue careers in STEM despite the lack of women in the field. More girls are joining engineering, science, and math classes that they don’t need because they have a passion for the study.
Girls in Long Beach, like me, are following careers in these and other male-dominated fields because of the encouragement we obtain from people around us.
Becoming a sports journalist is more than just following my passion for writing and sports. It also proves to other girls that they can become what they want to be despite the criticism. As women, we have to break the stereotype that we cannot do a “man’s job.”
VoiceWaves asked young women in Long Beach why they chose their STEM major and what advice they have for others considering that path.
I’m going into the Electrical Engineering and Mathematics fields. I’ve taken engineering classes throughout high school through a program called Project Lead the Way. I think [girls] avoid STEM majors because most of them are male dominant. Personally, I have not been [discouraged] because I’m strong headed. When I want something, I never quit, but throughout my high school years, I’ve seen other girls get discouraged and quit. We may say that it doesn’t bother us, but honestly, it can be a little intimidating. But I would say, don’t let it get to you. You may be one of only a few girls surrounded by a ton of guys who underestimate you or think you can’t be as great as them. Use that as your motivation to be greater than them and excel.
–Carley Washington, 17
The STEM career I plan to go into is most likely physics or geology. My dad had the most influence on me. Since I was young, my dad constantly took me to museums and he would watch science programs on TV. I do feel that to a certain extent, STEM majors are male dominated. I think females avoid STEM majors because many girls have this idea that science and engineering are something “guys” do, or like some of my friends, they believe they are the only girls in that major and choose not to go into it. If there is something you want to do, then do it.
–Sache Cox, 17
I’m going for chemical engineering. I want to work with fuels or pharmaceutical drugs and to incorporate my two favorite things, math and science. I believe my path will be difficult, but not impossible. My internship adviser, who is a naval engineer for the U.S. Coast Guard, is the one who influenced me to enter the field of engineering. I might get looked down upon by men in the field of engineering, which can be a bit intimidating, but that won’t stop me from reaching my goal. For girls questioning if they want to enter a STEM field, I say go for it, take the challenge and prove to others that men are not the only ones that can pursue a career as an engineer.
– Alexandria Esquivias, 17