The massive emergence of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries nowadays gives more access to people to involve in these fields, not to mention the expansion of startup companies encourage people to be more aware of the knowledge about STEM. However, attention must also be paid in the opportunities for women to work in these sectors, since STEM, especially technology field is still dominated by men workers.
Asia, in particular, as the growing region must also be prepared for the development of STEM industry. Three years ago, in March 2015, UNESCO conducted a new report titled A Complex Formula: Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Asia to investigate the question of women participation in STEM industry. Here are 10 facts about women in STEM in the region.
1. Only a few women in STEM, even though they are enthusiastic and motivated.
Based on UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics Report, in the field of science, technology, and innovation (STEM), women only make up about 30% of the total researchers. The three countries with the highest percentage of the female in STEM are: the Philippines (52%), the second highest is Thailand with 51%, and 50% of the total portion is held by Kazakhstan.
2. Women are less likely to be found in the higher levels.
Be it in terms of education or job market, the women percentage would be less likely to be found as the level goes higher. The real example of this fact can be seen through the list of Nobel Laureates in physics. The 199 of them, only two women that have been awarded and none of them came from Asia.
3. There is a correlation between participation in STEM and attainment in mathematics and science.
When the percentage of female researches is low in a country, males have the tendency to beat out the females’ scores in the subjects of mathematics and science. For countries like the Republic of Korea and Japan whose males tend to outperform the females in the aforementioned subjects, the female researches only take up 17% and 14% of the total population, consecutively. However, it is a different story with Malaysia and Thailand. According to the report, 49% of Malaysian women work as researchers while Thailand has a slightly higher figure, which is 51% of the total researchers in Thailand are women. It is also reported that females in both Malaysia and Thailand have the tendency to outscore the males in mathematics and science.
4. Women prefer life sciences to hard sciences.
At school, it is found that girls relatively attain better scores in science-related subjects than mathematics. This speaks volume why women choose science-oriented STEM sectors like chemistry, biology or medicine over those math-related areas such as physics, computer science, or engineering fields.
5. School materials can also contribute to gender stereotypes.
Due to the deep-seated belief of gender roles in Asian culture, it is easy for people to spot learning materials in students’ textbooks which highlight gender stereotypes and perspectives, especially in the subjects of mathematics and science which are in the realm of STEM. For instance, based on UNESCO finding, there is a science textbook in Cambodia for 9 Grader that displays silhouettes of male and female and how they relate certain gender to certain body functions--like thinking or listening—at the central nervous level.
6. The need to inspire girls at school.
Related to point. 4 where it showed that women tend to obtain good scores in STEM subjects, it is because the way those subjects are delivered stimulates their interests, for example through creative and practical works and activities. Nevertheless, countries like Cambodia and Mongolia where limited infrastructure and tools are still an issue, it is very hard to implement the learning materials in a more interesting way.
7. We need more female figures in STEM.
The gender disparity between male and female in STEM area can be minimized by having more female role models in it. Once girls are inspired by how females can perform well in STEM, it would attract more girls and women into the fields.
8. Anxiety among female students when they take mathematics and science subjects.
According to the results of the questionnaire that was distributed in seven Asian countries, girls at school feel anxious when taking mathematics and science subject as to how good they are compared to the boys. The result in Cambodia showed that even though the girls can achieve higher scores than the boys, they still feel unsure and anxious that lead them to need more consultation with their teachers.
9. The issue of job stability in STEM.
To begin with, the STEM industry itself is already dominated by men. The common struggle that is faced by women in STEM often includes the job stability issues such as how they attain and maintain in the high positions. It is reported that in the Republic of Korea, only a few women are appointed with permanent positions in STEM while 81% of men are able to achieve higher positions. It is not until this point only women often feel discouraged to work in STEM, moreover, because women tend to consider other domestic issues such as childcare issue, maternity leave, and the job opportunity when they return to work.
10. Strengthening other supporting factors.
In order to attract more girls and women into STEM, other supporting factors should also be taken into account as well. More access to education, job opportunities, encouragement for women and girls to voice their ideas, motivation from parents and teachers—to name a few.