It is well-known that, traditionally, women have been underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Recent studies show that this line is consistent as woman still remain under-represented in R&D in every region worldwide. Some of the latest UNESCO data shows that, in North America and Western Europe, the average representation for woman in R&D is of 32% (with the lowest average found in Luxemburg with only a 21% and in the Netherlands with a 24%). A totally different situation is found in Central and Eastern Europe, where the overall average rises up to 40%. In fact, in FYROM, Latvia and Lithuania, woman represent more than 50% and in Romania, Croatia, Moldova, Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia and Belarus the percentage exceeds a more than decent 40%.
Dispite the positive trend ocurring in Eastern Europe, a wide array of studies indicate a disparity between the number of woman studying science and those who go on board in science careers. In fact, in many regions worldwide, the percentage of woman enrolled in science education programs declines from bachelor to undergraduate or graduate degrees, as well as in further research programs.
A number of reasons, including an absence of mentoring and career support, a lack of female role models or prevailing stereotypes, have been found to explain and understand the trends shown above.
- Prejudices and bias
Many studies show negative prejudices towards hiring women in STEM research careers. This can be understood as hidden cultural influences: For instance, studies showed that not being used to see women in STEM occupations could form a vision in which those two concepts ("woman" and "STEM") were not connected, therefore provoking a bias. Eventually, the harder it is for women to succeed in STEM careers, the more discouraged they will be to pursue them.
- STEM degrees and healthcare
In fact, within the STEM realm, gender prejudices can be the cause why women are more likely to work in healthcare occupations rather than in research or in business enterprises: While man are still associated with leadership positions, women are commonly regarded as caregivers. This might lead them to choose occupations related to that sector or to drop out of the work environment to become the family primary housekeeper.
- Career conciliation
This is, in turn, linked to the conflict that many women face as they try to compatibilize career ambitions with familiar responsibilities. The structures and culture of science careers tend to be less favourable for women when it comes to family conciliation and could even be regarded as an institutional form of prejudice.
Do you agree with the ideas showed above? Which of the reasons mentioned is of more importance? Can you think of other causes that explain the gender gap? Share your thoughts!
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