In a study, the first of its kind, researchers had shown the ability and talents of female scientists across many scientific sectors.
Times had certainly changed and women are currently outnumbering and outperforming men in life science studies. A group of female researchers from the University of Colorado in the United States (USA) published a study last year showing that despite achieving excellent results in physical and life science undergraduate courses, women were still considered less capable than their male counterparts.
The paper, titled “Outperforming but undervalued,” stressed the importance of proper mentoring during undergraduate studies as peer pressure and gender biases during this critical time often alter the career choices of female scientists. The authors of the paper see this as a problematic making it difficult for women to rise above gender-ability stereotypes. A call is made for undergraduate female students’ achievement to be better recognised to retain them in STEM disciplines and careers.
While women now outnumber men as college graduates in the USA, men continue to outnumber women in most STEM fields. With research barriers to women in STEM documented in various reports and studies, this seemed to be not only applicable to the American higher education scenario, but across the globe. In Africa, female STEM scientists face even more challenges across the educational timeline and various sub-disciplines.
Some of the latest global research demonstrated that should women expose gender biases in STEM fields, it produced an increased sense of not belonging. It was also found that women’s failures are often attributed to internal characteristics and abilities, but not for men.
In this ground-breaking paper, it showed clearly that peer pressure and the opinion of classmates play a large role in the accepted gender-biased culture in STEM. This had never been studied and highlights college women’s experiences of gender bias from classmates, including group-favouritism, predicting female aspirations in completing a STEM major or pursuing a STEM career. Another study proved that increased STEM representation could promote better outcomes for women. Countries with greater representation of women in science consistently show lower gender-science stereotypes.
The authors of “Outperformed but undervalued” said the fact that men are now outnumbered by women in undergraduate classes, should not be seen as a perception change in STEM. It was found that even researchers enforced gender stereotypes such as women’s “relative cognitive strengths” in math compared to men’s.
Change takes time, but already reports are showing that women and girls are closing the gap in many STEM fields in terms of both representation and performance despite the fact that these gains are underreported.
One country which is bucking this global trend and STEM female scientists are revered is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where eight in every 10 female learners are studying computer science. The number of female students in the UAE who are enrolling in STEM subjects is far higher than in many rich other countries.
As many as 77% students taking computer science classes in the UAE are female with 93% of computer-science students in Oman all female. Their participation in engineering is high with 44.5% being women, well above First-World European countries. In Kuwait close to 70% of students enrolling in STEM is female with Oman and Bahrain reporting continued increases in young women opting for STEM careers.
A senior doctor in the UAE believes women in STEM fields are supporting each other and acting as mentors for each other in the field, explaining why a high number of students are female. Dr Habiba Alsafar, female director of Khalifa University’s Centre for Biotechnology, said: “That’s the culture here. The work is in the lab and women feel comfortable in this setting. Also, women want to help the community.”
Dr Alsafar said that the encouraging statistics SHOW many things had changed since she carved out a STEM career. As only one of 30 students in a biochemistry class in America where she studied, she experienced a lot of negativity. She stressed the importance of a strong family support network. While she welcomed more opportunities for women in STEM, she felt there was still more work to be done.