By Yuchao Fan, UK young correspondent

 

As a child, she had no interest in STEM – she found it boring and unsuitable for her. She eventually went on to pursue a career in a different industry. Was this lack of interest in STEM purely innate, perhaps simply a matter of preference?





Let's say that, as a child, she did possess an interest in STEM – she was always interested in how things worked. But her friends teased her for it, and her teachers discouraged her from pursuing STEM as a career. There were also very few opportunities for her to explore STEM outside of the normal school environment. She herself began to think that such a career wasn’t viable; after all, the majority of successful people in the STEM industry were male, and she didn’t know any other girls who studied, or wanted to study, STEM subjects. After a great deal of hesitation, she gave up on a career in STEM and eventually took up a career in a different industry.

Well, it seems that even if she did have an ‘innate’ interest in STEM, she was ultimately unable to pursue this interest as a career due to a lack of motivation, encouragement, confidence, extra-curricular opportunities and role models among many other factors. In particular, the media tends to objectify women and does not promote female roles in STEM.



Let's imagine she worked hard at university, and graduated with honours. It was now time for her to find a job. Except she couldn’t find one. Most of the excuses the companies gave revolved around her not being qualified enough, or perhaps just unsuitable for the job. Of course, she knew that this wasn’t true, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Eventually, she could only settle for a low-paid job and choose to either keep waiting, or to work in a different industry instead.


Why didn’t the companies want to hire her? Maybe they were sexist and held biased views towards women, or perhaps they felt that women were simply too much ‘trouble’ in the workplace. This is especially because many women eventually have to take maternity leave, which can create various problems for the company in terms of organisation.


She worked hard at her new job, and consistently obtained excellent results. She showed great potential and was always helpful in the workplace environment. But when she asked for a promotion, she was refused. One of the managers did suggest to her in private that he could offer a promotion to her though- but only if she slept with him. Once again, she was helpless; it seemed as if it would be almost impossible for her to move up the career ladder, at least not without sacrificing her dignity.
Exactly why was she refused a promotion, despite her excellent results? Once again, the question of sexism may come into play - the belief that women simply are not as good as men in the STEM industry. There is also an issue of sexual harassment in such a male-dominated environment, where senior figures might deliberately try to make things difficult for women if they don’t ‘comply’.

She worked just as well in her new position, but after a while she had to take maternity leave. About a year later, she returned to work and faced a large workload. Having been away for so long, the work began to take its toll on her very quickly. It was tiring – both physically and mentally – and she was the only woman there. Her work schedule and culture did not accommodate particularly for her, especially since she now also had a daughter to take care of. Eventually, she was putting her health at risk and had to quit. Fast forward a year. By now, she had recuperated and her daughter no longer needed constant attention. She decided to work from home this time, in order to prevent any potential problems in the household. Except once again, she was unable to find a job. None of the companies she applied to could provide flexible working schedules. She had no choice but to continue staying at home looking after her daughter.


Ultimately, it was because her workplace didn’t cater to women enough, just like much of the STEM industry in general. Since it is male-dominated, the current STEM industry has inevitably given rise to certain traits that are particularly unfavourable to women. Many companies are unable to offer flexible working schedules, and this hits women the hardest – after all, women are typically expected by society to look after the household and children rather than men. Subsequently, as a result of many women feeling obliged to take care of the household, they are no longer able to progress in their careers.

 

Our story ends here. Of course, she probably did manage to find a job of some sort in the end, but she began to lose the interest in STEM that she once had as a child. She was tired, fed up and despondent. And when the time came, she told her daughter not to pursue a career in STEM either – “It’s just not for girls”. The vicious cycle continued.