Patronising women won’t help bridge the STEM gender gap

Last month, Girl Geeks, a nationwide programme to encourage more women to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers, launched at the University of Newcastle and the University of Northumbria. This is just the latest in a series of new initiatives aimed at tackling the so-called STEM gender gap in academia and industry.

According to a survey last year, while women make up almost half of the UK workforce, they only account for one-fifth of the STEM industry. This, as many have claimed, is because STEM subjects have always been considered ‘male’ subjects. In order to tackle this, a range of bursaries, incentives and mentoring programmes, like Girl Geeks, have been created in order to encourage young women to study STEM subjects at university and later get a job in the STEM industry.

In terms of offering scholarships, universities have always favoured subjects like science and maths, because there is much higher demand for them in the workforce. This has only added to the perception that young female students are getting a raw deal, as women have been traditionally drawn to the arts and the humanities. However, there’s more to this story.

For a start, despite the increased number of scholarship opportunities and support offered to women in STEM subjects, women currently dominate in subjects like veterinary science and medicine. But, more crucially, this flurry of new schemes has had the effect of pushing young women in a certain direction, subtly discouraging them from choosing subjects that don’t come with as many opportunities. As well as scholarships, internships and work experience in the STEM industry are more readily advertised, leaving people outside of these fields with less support. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter what gender you are or what subject you wish to study – you should get just as much support as everyone else.

Seeing the varying STEM scholarships on offer to women, it all seems like we’ve gone a step too far. It appears as if young women need this extra support and help. All of this is offensive, unfair and patronising. What’s more, it is now getting to the point where it is disadvantaging young men in the same field, who aren’t offered the same prospects. Honestly, I don’t think there is a problem here that schemes and quotas can solve. The real Geek Girls out there are more than capable of bridging the gender gap themselves.

Eleanor Stammeijer is a student based in London.

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