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Greenville Business Magazine

Education is Key to STEM Gap

By Amy Gardner

Women have traditionally been discouraged from participating in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs and jobs.

Despite making significant contributions to the field, they either received little credit (such as Rosalind Franklin, who actually took the first X-ray of DNA, identifying its helical conformation and setting the foundation for discovering the true structure of DNA by her male partners on the project), or were encouraged to pursue occupations in education or as receptionists/secretaries over the decades. Even with increased awareness and programs, women remain underrepresented in the field, making up only 28 percent of the STEM-employed population, according to the American Association of University Women. Additionally, women still experience a significant wage gap in STEM – making at least $5 per hour less than their male counterparts on average.

However, over the past few years, the percentage of women involved in STEM has been increasing steadily. While part of this can be credited to less discouragement towards women who want to enter STEM programs, a large part of it is also due to education. Most people seem to agree that education is the way forward in getting more young women into STEM. As someone who is involved in the world of education and tutoring, I am in agreement.

One of my top goals is ensuring that students of any gender, race or background have access to comprehensive STEM programs across multiple fields. That includes coding, architecture, robotics and more. So many people think the majority of STEM studies can only be done thoroughly on a college level, which is why the field still lacks diversity. We’re working to ensure that children in K-12 education can study STEM from elementary to high school.

By giving students access to STEM studies at a younger age, it allows them to have a thorough understanding of the breadth of STEM programs before they enroll in higher education. Programs that encourage these practices allow more women to become comfortable in STEM before they can be discouraged from pursuing what has traditionally been known as a male-dominated field. That discouragement comes from external sources or internal perceptions of what a woman should study. After all, in grade-school education, men and women study math and science at equal rates. However, women typically do not go on to study STEM subjects in college. This is partially due to the fact that women do not perceive themselves to be good at subjects that are known as “male” subjects. However, studies have shown that further encouragement for women to pursue these subjects can actually boost their test scores in these areas.

Further education in these subjects earlier on could make women more comfortable with pursuing science and math-based studies, allowing doors in STEM to be open for them in the future.

Ensuring that everyone is equally represented in the STEM field is very important. Women throughout history have made so many incredible contributions to STEM, and raising this generation of women to be more receptive to the idea of pursuing and working in STEM is the responsibility of educators. Elevating the importance of minority groups in fields where they’re historically underrepresented should be a high priority.

Amy Gardner is the president and owner of the Sylvan Learning Centers in Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Columbia and Irmo in S.C. and Asheville, N.C. For more than 40 years, Sylvan Learning Centers have provided personalized instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, study skills, homework support and test preparation for college entrance and state exams.