Even today, men still dominate the scene in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as women are largely hampered by social barriers. Australian engineer, Francesca Maclean, who co-founded an organization to promote gender equity in STEM, said gender bias, stereotypes, and environment in science and engineering departments in educational institutions are contributing the small number of women involved in STEM even to this day. As a result, women often feel left out and alienated in the field.
“Talking from experience, back then as I was the only woman in the room, my fellow classmate would not even make eye contact with me, they did not even want to talk to me,” said Maclean, during a visit to Jakarta. “Some insensitive tutors also made me feel like I didn’t belong in the degree, and that really gave me a negative experience. This kind of social environment is actually one of the main causes why many female students [in engineering] left school.”
The 26 years old is a PhD graduate from the Australian National University with specialty on biomaterials. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta invited Magdalene to interview Maclean to discuss gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) last Friday.
She pointed out how women only made up one-fifth of the total number of students in engineering, and with only even a smaller number upon graduation. In Australia, she said, women only make up 12 percent of the people who work in the engineering field.
“However, when women work in engineering industry, they are merely serving and dominating the administration sector,” she added.
She illustrated how gender stereotypes and unconscious bias play parts in dividing the roles between men and women. For example, people often assume women in STEM are “geniuses” or “exceptional”, as if they are mere anomalies among their sex.
“People keep saying how ‘amazing’ it is that I work as an engineer. The fact that they are still surprised or impressed when they find women studying or working in STEM indicate that we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.
She noted the importance of normalizing women in STEM, and to stop presuming they are geniuses who will overtake their male counterparts – as if it is the only way for them to earn proper attention.
Francesca also expresses her main concern regarding the way parents and teachers socializes “gender” towards children: “We need to get parents and teachers to start changing the way they interact with boys versus girls – how they are encouraging them into different career paths. I think it is our responsibility to mitigate the unconscious bias.”
“As for young women, I’d say: Never adapt to the system; the system should be adapting to people,” she said.
Founded in 2015 by her and Emily Campbell, Fifty50 is a student-led organization to promote gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and maths within the ANU and ensure an inclusive environment in the STEM industry. Founded in 2015, Fifty50 has successfully involved 1,000 students in its first year.
“We have mentoring program and regular networking session, as well as development session to establish gender equity knowledge. We invite role models and partner up with consulting and engineering firm sto help with students’ career development,” she explained.
The organization also attempts to provide a space for women students to grow a sense of community and belonging as it enables them to meet people with similar struggle, she said.
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