Jan 18 2018

Environmental Protection Issues Could Drive More Women into STEM Studies

Research from Cornell University finds that “green” fields support more gender equality.

Want to recruit more women into your science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) program? Focusing on the environment might be a good place to start.

Research from Cornell University’s Center for the Study of Inequality, presented on Campus Technology, noted that “green” fields — which emphasize working in the environment and in the field of environmental protection — are more gender-balanced.

“The underlying implication of our results is that universities can likely increase the representation of men, or women, in gender-imbalanced fields like engineering or education if they emphasize their potential relation to the environmental movement,” said Dafna Gelbgiser, a former post-doctorate researcher in CSI, in a news release about the research. “Our findings suggest that gender balance in STEM fields is malleable and these emerging fields can be a force leading to greater equality in higher education.”

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Changing STEM Perception Promotes Gender Equality

The Cornell researchers found that STEM fields related to environmental protection could be more appealing to women because they combine a care-oriented field with technology.

Researchers suggested that emphasizing aspects of a field that might not be apparent could be a simple step to attacking gender disparity.

“If universities carefully frame their curricular offerings to emphasize different themes, they can reduce the level of gender inequality in course enrollments,” said Kyle Albert, a former CSI researcher, in the release.

In the cybersecurity field, for example, experts have noted that emphasizing the soft skills around improving culture and policies could be one way to encourage more women into the field.

More Women in STEM Could Drive Innovation

Recruiting more women into STEM disciplines at that university level could mean big wins for STEM career fields. The latest research from the U.S. Department of Commerce, released in Nov. 2017, noted that while women filled 47 percent of jobs in 2015, they only held 24 percent of STEM jobs.

Even if women hold STEM degrees, the research noted that they still are more likely than their male counterparts to work outside of STEM fields.

Experts, such as Melinda Gates, have urged the tech industry and the education sector to step up to help create more opportunities for young women in technology and change how they view the path to a STEM career.

“I think that if we want to see a sea change — if we want a wave of women in tech — then we need to open the floodgates,” said Gates at the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. “What if, instead of one pipeline, we created new pathways — lots of them?”

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