Despite growing numbers in research, women in STEM still outnumbered in the classroom
Female STEM students express concerns over representation in their academic fields’.Image By: Max Homstad
More women than ever are participating in science, technology, engineering and math research at UW-Madison.
However, there remains a disconnect in women feeling like they have a place in the classroom.
A 2016 Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute of the University of Wisconsin-Madison survey showed that more women than ever before are participating in STEM-related research on campus.
“Every year more and more female engineers graduate. The idea of a male dominated field is getting less and less prevalent,” Sydney Heimer, a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering said. “It’s hard to know for sure because I didn't see what things were like in my mom’s engineering classes, for example, but from what she’s told me, it’s getting a lot better.”
Aurelie Rakotondrafara, an assistant professor working in a plant pathology lab, has yet to have a lab with less females than men since 2011.
“Whoever applies — regardless of gender — if you are good [at your job], I think yes please come. I would say that we do make an effort not to prioritize candidates that are female, but we do encourage them,” Rakotondrafara said.
Although some fields such as Environmental and Biomedical Engineering have started to take strides towards female inclusion, some fields remain behind. Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering remain relatively male-dominated on the UW-Madison campus, according to students.
“I look around and the whole class is boys and there are literally five girls. It makes me feel weird and outnumbered. I’m not like anyone else there,” Lauren Westlund, a sophomore in the Mechanical Engineering Department said.
The resurgence of females in research labs does not mean sexism is eradicated from the STEM field. The WISELI study showed that 49 percent of women experienced some sort of “hostile or intimidating behavior in the workplace.”
“I’m way less likely to answer a question in class because I doubt myself and if I’m wrong, I don’t want people to think that all girls are stupid or make a generalization. If I say something stupid, they’ll just think that every girl is stupid,” Westlund said.
Westlund noted the career advantages associated with being a woman in STEM despite the feeling of discomfort in the classroom.
“I assume that people want more of a minority because right now everyone’s trying to gain women because they’re so highlighted in the media. I have an advantage when I’m applying for jobs because they need more women in engineering,” Westlund said.
UW-Madison has taken initiative to prioritize females in STEM programs by implementing programs such as the Society of Women in Engineering and Women in Science and Engineering. Part of the goal of these programs is to make women feel less alone in a male-dominated classroom.
These programs have had high turnout rates since the beginning due to a community feeling women in STEM don't necessarily experience from their classrooms or research labs.
“These programs give you the little internal support that you need, [people] that experience the same things you do every day, it helps to feel less isolated,” Heimer said.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter