Several years ago, we could say that there was a huge career gap between the genders all over the world. More women were involved in caregiving roles, family functions, and specific jobs which were considered suitable for women (because of the deeply rooted feminine features, and ability to multi-task within somewhat stress-free subtleties) such as teaching, nursing, and catering. Women were regarded as the “weaker sex” as they were generally considered incapable of keeping up with roles that involved security, physical strength and might, and an all-around mental/emotional stability.

The men, on the other hand, were seen as protectors, leaders, and builder who in most cases, have things figured out. This notion was born out of a close study of natural occurrences over time and not particularly because a certain category of the individual was selected to be marginalized. A meta-analysis concluded that men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people.

In the past in developing continents like Africa and Asia, customs and traditions dictated the roles of each member of the society. For instance, in rural African communities where communal living was the structure upon which they were built, girls were groomed to be home keepers and in order to avoid distractions, they weren’t sent to school. At that time, the only medals a woman could get revolved around being responsible through marriage, being a good home keeper (which included the proper training of her girl children), and the act of submission as a wife. Short of these, she was limited in vision not because she couldn’t dream big dreams, but rather because she didn’t even know what to dream about. Her society had made her short-sighted to the possibilities of career paths.

It was not the men that limited her by relegating her to the background and seizing choice jobs in exotic places. No! it was cultural norms passed down from one generation to the next. The custodians of these norms didn’t know any better. They saw a weaker sex and not the strength capable of causing socioeconomic development across nations of the world.

An article by Rebecca Onion titled “Unclaimed Treasures of Science “, reveals that as far back as the Cold War, there were already women in STEM in the developed countries. The official government line during the Cold War was: STEM careers for everyone! But as historians Margaret Rossiter and Sevan Terzian have pointed out, that push for science, technology, engineering, and math conflicted with gender norms and discriminatory institutional practices, resulting in a confusing set of mixed messages for women and girls. A book by historian Laura Micheletti Puaca titled “Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940-1980 buttresses this point. Puaca wrote about female scientists, engineers, and educators who used innovative tactics to help women succeed in STEM, long before second-wave feminism in the late 1960s and the 1970s made issues of employment equity and stereotyping part of the national conversation.

According to the historian, World War II gave women their starting point. During the war, demands for more of what was often called “scientific manpower” and a shortage of civilian male workers prompted government and industry to start programs to train women in science and engineering. But when men returned from the service, women’s status in STEM fields worsened. The GI Bill sent a flood of male students to American universities, and opportunities—both for women who had gotten quick wartime training and for more established female scientists—dried up.

Importance of having women in STEM

It goes without saying that it has become a necessity to have more women in the STEM fields with the rush of digitalization consuming the world. The coming years will see massive changes in all sectors of the economy and nations of the world need to be prepared for this surge. Women constitute up to half of the world’s population, they are ready to be involved in developmental activities and should be put to good use. In addition, STEM-related organizations and groups must be commended for their relentless efforts towards encouraging a greater participation of women and girls in STEM fields and activities.

The way forward

Despite the successes already recorded regarding women participation in STEM activities, there is a lot of work to be done.

Mentors: There is the need for a greater support and encouragement from mentor figures. This will go a long way in women’s decisions of whether or not to continue pursuing a career in their discipline.

This may be particularly true for younger individuals who may face many obstacles early in their careers. Since these younger individuals often look to those who are more established in their discipline for help and guidance, the responsiveness and helpfulness of potential mentors are incredibly important.

Cultural Exchange: Another way to spike up the number of women in STEM is through Cultural exchanges.

It is true that some tribes and races have cultural barriers which may affect their decisions, cultural exchange programmes should be incorporated in those systems to enlighten such communities on the benefits of having women who are self-reliant.

By: Eruke Ojuederie

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