Here at NIDA, we're fortunate to be led by a trailblazing female scientist, Dr. Nora Volkow. She has done brilliant and pioneering work in brain science and is even a great spokesperson: She goes on TV all the time to explain the important work NIDA does in studying and preventing drug abuse.
But in some ways, Dr. Volkow is an exception. Despite the fact that more women than men go to college today, men still outnumber women in the sciences—by A LOT. In 2008–09, only 31 percent of the degrees and certificates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM, for short) were earned by women. Despite making up half of the U.S. workforce, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.
When they do go into the sciences, many women take a different path than many men do, and are more likely to pursue the life sciences (biology, genetics, or neuroscience, for example) than the physical sciences (like physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geology). It seems that women are more drawn to STEM fields that have a direct impact on improving the human condition through advances in health.
Gender Bias and Stereotypes
So, why do women continue to shy away from the sciences? One possible reason is the old stereotype that men are better at math and science than women. This inaccurate but still widely believed myth creates gender bias—preference of men over women—that can make it harder for women to enter STEM fields and discourage them from even pursuing those areas in their education.
The gender bias in sciences was confirmed by a recent Yale study. When Yale University researchers asked scientists to review the job applications of a woman and a man with identical qualifications, the scientists consistently ranked the male candidate higher and were more likely to hire the male—and to pay him more. The scientists reviewing the applications included both men and women, which means women showed gender bias too!
White House Initiative To Support Women and Girls in STEM
Another often-cited barrier keeping women from entering STEM fields is the lack of female role models in the sciences.
President Obama believes that supporting women in STEM is important to our country’s continued development and success. That is why the Office of Science and Technology Policy, together with the White House Council on Women and Girls, is working to increase the number of girls participating in the sciences.
The President is addressing the need for more female role models by appointing several women to lead science and technology efforts in our Government. A few of these talented women include:
- Lisa Jackson, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
- Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator
- Arati Prabhakar, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
We’re lucky to have Dr. Nora Volkow as our female role model in science. We also believe women and men are equally qualified to be scientists and engineers.
Tell us in comments: How can we help other young women feel confident enough to wear the white lab coat?