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Is the Lack of Women in STEM about Individual Choices?

A response to Juliet de Baubigny’s post “The Tech Sector Needs More Women; Here’s How You Can Make It Happen.” in Forbes.

As an advocate for women in technology, I was drawn to the promise of a recent Forbes article called “The Tech Sector Needs More Women; Here’s How You Can Make It Happen.” After reading Juliet de Baubigny’s post, I came away troubled with her reasoning for women being missing in the tech field.

The article suggests three kinds of pressures: financial, societal and environmental. While I agree that these pressures are a challenge, I disagree that all of them are internal, as suggested by this article.

  1. Financial pressure: Author Juliet de Baubigny suggests that affordable day care options lead women in technology to drop out of the workforce, because day care rates exceed income for women in tech. I disagree with this: women in tech are paid a comfortable salary, albeit still less than their male counterparts.
  2. Societal pressure: Social issues are addressed, but again as individual choices. De Baubigny states that women decide to stay home with their babies, thereby leaving the workforce.
  3. Environmental pressure: Finally, the environment and having a supportive partner is suggested as a factor. The recommendation for counteracting this pressure is all internal, and with suggestions for how the woman needs to change her behavior.

While I agree there are things women can do to help ourselves, there are also outside forces for which we have little control. For financial issues, while many women receive a comfortable income, we still find that women are paid less than their male counterparts. I’ve experienced that myself. Second, social issues are deeper than women leaving after having a child.

Family matters aside, let’s first discuss that the STEM sector isn’t quite female friendly; women are not accepted, nor are their thoughts readily accepted. When a field is so clearly dominated by one gender, it’s not easy to break into that field. So, while women are not remaining in the STEM sector, maybe we need to look at the sector itself and not blame the women for leaving. The idea that you should put off your thoughts of having a child so you can fix the sector is not what I would recommend.

We women need to change the STEM sector together — it’s what we do best, being collaborative. So, let’s be collaborative and change the sector, not by individual choices to put off having children or put off your children’s needs for your career. We may find that by working together as a family of women wanting to change the sector, our results are much deeper than any one person’s complex choices in balancing work and life.

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