Women Shut Out Of STEM Jobs (Science, Technology, Math and Engineering) — While This Year's Intel Winner Is A Girl

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The report released this week, “Why So Few?” says it all — women remain under-represented in the STEM fields, filled — no coincidence — with growing opportunities and good salaries.

Reported The New York Times:

The report found ample evidence of continuing cultural bias. One study of postdoctoral applicants, for example, found that women had to publish 3 more papers in prestigious journals, or 20 more in less-known publications, to be judged as productive as male applicants.

Making judgments about an individual’s abilities based on his or her sex is a classic form of discrimination, said Nancy Hopkins, an M.I.T. biology professor who created an academic stir in the 1990s by documenting pervasive, but largely unintentional, discrimination against women at the university.

Even if male math geniuses outnumbered female geniuses 3 to 1, Dr. Hopkins said, it would be reasonable to expect one female math professor for every three male professors at places like Harvard and M.I.T. “But in fact, Harvard just tenured its first female, after 375 years,” said Dr. Hopkins.

Tom Friedman attended the banquet celebrating this year’s 40 Intel science contest winners.

The contest identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America.

Wrote Friedman:

Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalists are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.

Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years.

Erika, 18, from Albuquerque, already has her own homepage. Here’s the Intel description of her work.

I loved the video on Intel’s site, in which the female competitors enthuse about their work: “It’s just a completely different way of thinking about the contribution I can make to the world”; “I fell in love with science when I realized how many unanswered questions have yet to be answered”; “I like being on the edge of things.”

If you’re not encouraged — by books, films, mentors, parents, friends, teachers, neighbors, let alone the culture at large — how can we succeed? In my recent post about sexism in journalism, a young college student studying computer science commented on the hostile and sexist climate she faces in the classroom from male students. Even the smartest, toughest, most creative and determined among us can shrivel in the face of such glacial, threatened behavior.

Teachers and professors, take note!

I adored biology and wanted to study it in university and my teacher in senior year discouraged me. I would only have taken one class, from the pure love of it, but he warned me it would be too hard. I regret not doing it and I regret listening to him.

My youngest half-brother won such a prestigious prize in high school — in 1999 — for his work on MRSA. The international reception he received was quite extraordinary: a world-famous scientist took him under her wing; he was flown all over the U.S. to lecture and speak, a major Toronto hospital wanted to patent his work. Doors swung wide open, fast, to some of the most powerful and accomplished contacts imaginable. He had not even started college.

He doesn’t work in science, and left it behind to focus on peace and conflict studies.

Talented, hardworking girls and women in STEM fields need — and deserve — this sort of welcome and encouragement.

I’m in awe of women studying, and working, in STEM. They’re our future.