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Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (aauw.org)
1 point by restruct on Mar 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments

Because it's a freaking lousy career that more women than men are smart enough to stay out of: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science ?

Especially given the much smaller fertility window women have?

Please read the study, instead of making up rationalizations to avoid dealing with issues of stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities. http://www.aauw.org/research/upload/whysofew.pdf

If, as I claim, it's a bad career, shouldn't those discriminating against women in university STEM careers be praised instead of condemned ^_^? The sooner someone bails out, the better, if this thesis is correct.

(I.e. it would be a lot more productive if you were to address my point instead of totally ignoring it.)

Well, one could argue that, even if the careers suck, science/technology has a big impact on people's lives, so if it's gender-imbalanced that might lead to gender-imbalanced impacts on even people not in the field, as they're stuck using tech designed exclusively by men. On the other hand, that sort of ends-focused argument isn't a very good reason for any actual women to go into the field, unless they're particularly altruistic and doing it to better society.

But yeah, I think these debates do tend to assume that STEM careers are desirable, which is why there is no similar hand-wringing about how few women get construction jobs (<10% women). Certainly they're well paid, which is probably the biggest reason STEM careers are seen as better than construction jobs, given that level of pay has become close to an exclusive measure of job desirability (e.g. we judge colleges and majors by average starting pay on graduation).

Well paid compared to consruction jobs, certainly, but not well paid at all when you look at lifetime earnings. All those years spend as a starving grad student and then poorly paid itinerant post-doc are bad, and if you don't get tenure it's game over for your career, at least as a higher level well paid professor.

It was better when I started playing the game in the late '70s (people weren't parked in post-doc purgatory for hardly as long), but I was under no illusions that I was going to make much money (I pursued it because I had a calling, one I realized in 1st grade).

We ought to mention the elephant in the room: the NSF et. al. decided in the '80s? that they wanted to keep the cost of science low so they pumped the supply big time, resulting in part in the mess we see today. I would have just missed that if finances hadn't brought my budding career as a scientist to a brutal end in 1980.

A further problem with the "STEM has a big impact on people's lives" thesis (as a motivator for going into it) is that the odds of you making a really big difference are low and seriously unpredictable. Being perfectly prepared to figure out the structure and semi-synthesis of penicillin does you little good if you show up on the scene a few years after someone else did it....

Yeah, though my impression is that the current focus is mostly on the good-for-society angle: that it would be better for society if STEM fields as a whole were more gender-balanced, even if not necessarily better for the women actually in those STEM fields.

This is a rather different argument than the more traditional one, that gender-bias/etc. is standing in the way of women who want to go into STEM careers but find themselves blocked. The focus these days seems to be more on women who don't want to go into STEM careers, to figure out why and how we can change that, which is more of a focus on social-engineering/good-for-society outcomes, as opposed to the more traditional feminist focus on personal autonomy / right to pursue your career of choice.

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