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STEM women still fighting for equal representation

Women in the STEM fields have faced much opposition in their fight for equal representation. At UMBC, this fight is still going strong.

As a flourishing, academic-based university, it is one of UMBC’s responsibilities to inspire other educational opportunities to continue and expand the movement. Though there are many programs at the university that promote women in STEM, there is always more that individuals and groups can do to normalize the concept of STEM-educated women across the country.

The Center for Women In Technology is one of the many programs that focus on empowering women in STEM at UMBC. Since its establishment in 1998, it has been “dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the creation of technology in the engineering and information technology fields.”

CWIT also does outreach activities, in which they “are focused primarily on reaching Maryland high school girls…to increase girls’ knowledge of and enthusiasm for ITE careers.”

Even so, these outreach activities are not nearly as impactful as they could be. “CWIT doesn’t have the resources to do extensive outreach to pre-college students,” said Dr. Penny Rheingans, director of the CWIT scholars program. “So many students have ruled out studying technology before they even arrive at college.”

Outreach to pre-college students is essential to building confidence in young women who are passionate about STEM subjects. As a woman in STEM, Dr. Rheingans has had her fair share of difficulties. “At times, it’s taken all my considerable stubbornness to keep striving,” she commented, “the support of other women (and men who get it) have made all the difference.”

Getting more women into STEM is not only helpful to the careers of young women. In Dr. Rheingans’s experience, this movement helps scientific and technological fields because “diverse teams create better and more robust technology.”

UMBC has many additional programs that promote this diversity. Programs such as the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, WISE, Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars, and the Sherman STEM Teacher Education Scholars Programs all advocate for the increase of women in STEM. There are also clubs, such as The Reach Initiative, that support young women interested in STEM-related majors.

Unfortunately, these types of programs on their own do not have enough power to even out the playing field between men and women in the workplace. A clear example of this is the ever persistent wage gap between male and female workers. In even the highest paying jobs, women only “make a mere 64 percent of what their male peers earn.”

In addition to the wage gap, there is very little representation of women in STEM. Though women make up almost half of the workforce, they make up “just 24 percent of workers in STEM fields.”

To eliminate these disparities, programs at UMBC need to focus on large-scale outreach to women interested in STEM outside the university. This will allow UMBC to be a role model for other universities and set an example for how society should approach the unequal balance of women in STEM careers.

For those wondering what they can do to help this movement individually, Dr. Rheingans leaves one final piece of advice: “Do what you love and talk about why you love it. Challenge preconceptions about who creates technology or what they’re like. “