A New York Times editorial published Dec. 10, 2013, about the lack of women and minorities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields has brought quick responses in support and in opposition. The newspaper’s editorial board wrote that America is falling behind other developed countries in math and science because “we have effectively written off a huge chunk of our population as uninterested in those fields or incapable of succeeding in them.”
Women hold just 26% of the jobs in the STEM fields; African-Americans account for 6% and Hispanics for only 7%. In computer science, women’s representation has declined in the last 20 years, the editorial reports. What’s holding back minorities is limited access to quality education as well as stereotypes about who does well in science and math. Women “rule out engineering and computer science partly because they are uninterested, feel ill-prepared for them or because society identifies these domains as male,” the editorial argues.
Among the responses to the editorial was this from a professor from New York: “Clearly what matters to the U.S. is the total number of scientists and not how they are divided by gender or color or whatever. Any woman who wants to BE a scientist should be encouraged. But why should we encourage women interested in music or literature or psychology to go into physical science instead? Would we prefer that Alice Munro had gone into Physics instead? Jane Austen? Emily Dickinson? Let the social engineers keep their hands off the choices of individuals.”
But a woman in Boston wrote this: “You’ve left out a big, important factor: Outright discrimination. As a woman in the physical sciences, I have been told by a professor that he did not want to invest time in mentoring me since I was so likely to leave the field to have children. I chose a less rigorous graduate school over a more prestigious one almost entirely because it was the one school where the first question asked in interviews wasn’t ‘What does your husband do?’ (granted it’s unusual for a 24 year old applicant of either gender to be married, but still, the interview was supposed to be about me! ) It is exhausting to constantly fight against people who believe that you are less capable because of your gender or race. Even if we’ve jumped through all the hoops to get to this point, we’re still being pushed out.”