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  • Julia Accardo & Akol Fortunate

Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers and Bridging the Gender Gap

A collaboration with Girls in Global

Women have been underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for many years, both in university and in industry. Representation of women in STEM history has been recorded as low as 0.5%. This small percentage is not due to absence of significant contributions by women, but to the marginalization and lack of recognition of their  accomplishments in the field.

Source: Stem Women. 2023. 2022/2023 academic year in the United Kingdom. (

Women have always been part of history but their significant achievements have often been omitted, underlooked and undervalued across the globe from big economies to less developed nations.

Many women in the past centuries have contributed to STEM developments, among whom Merit Ptah who was the first woman known by name in the field of STEM as a physician in Pharaoh’s court during the second dynasty of Egypt. These women defied social barriers to become important contributors to science, technology, engineering, and math.

We all hold gender biases, shaped by cultural stereotypes in the wider culture, that affect how we evaluate and treat one another. While explicit gender bias—that is, self-reported bias—is declining, implicit or unconscious gender bias remains widespread. Several research findings shed light on the effects of stereotypes and gender bias as they relate to women in engineering and computing.

Addressing the underrepresentation of women in engineering and computing requires a multifaceted approach that delves into various aspects of societal, organizational, and individual behavior. 

First, it means reducing gender bias by challenging cultural stereotypes. Changing societal perceptions that perpetuate gender biases, such as the belief that men are inherently better at math and science, is crucial. Highlighting successful women in engineering and computing fields can challenge these stereotypes. Introducing positive role models and experiences early in life can also help counter implicit biases formed at a young age. For example, exposing children to female engineers and computer scientists can reshape their perceptions. Moreover, blind evaluations and holding managers accountable for their decisions can mitigate the influence of gender bias in hiring and promotion processes.

Then, addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM can be countered by incorporating communal values. Introducing communal values into engineering and computing education can attract more women by emphasizing the societal impact of these fields. Project-based learning experiences that focus on real-life, open-ended problems have been proven to be particularly effective. Creating a welcoming environment that values social contributions is also essential for retaining female professionals. Organizations can highlight the communal aspects of engineering and computing work to increase motivation and commitment among women.

Third, implementing affirmative action programs can help counteract biases in recruitment and promotion processes. These programs may include expanding outreach efforts to attract underrepresented groups and setting diversity goals. Affirmative action policies may help ensure that women and other underrepresented groups are not disadvantaged in hiring and advancement opportunities. 

Fourth, providing mentorship and support networks for women in engineering and computing fields is crucial for their retention and advancement. Programs like the National Science Foundation's Advance initiative focus on developing systemic approaches to support female academics in STEM careers. Such programs can help foster a sense of belonging among women in the field. 

By addressing these various aspects comprehensively, stakeholders can work together to reduce gender bias, making the contributions of engineering and computing more apparent, and cultivating a sense of belonging among women in these fields.

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