The gender inequality in science, engineering, and technology fields has been a contentious topic among social scientists, lawyers, and feminists for decades. Despite their limited entry to the areas of science and technology, women have had significant roles to play in these fields. The majority of females who have had a significant impact on science and technology have been advocating for equal opportunities and for a smoother entry into these areas. Contrariwise, technological change has had both negative and positive influences on the roles of women in the development of science and technology. Regardless of that, bearing in mind that more women are earning degrees in science and technology than men are, the future advancement of the two fields depends on the contributions of females and their longevity in the scientific careers.
Gender Differences in Science and Technology Fields
For decades, numerous studies have been conducted in an attempt to explain the imbalance between men and women in science, engineering, and technology fields. Social scientists have studied the variances while lawyers have endeavored to fix the imbalance. Post-feminist society, on the other hand, seems to have come to terms with this fact. Nonetheless, men still outnumber women in science, engineering, and technology fields.
In recent years, most blatant discrimination against women in engineering and technology fields has been diminished through academic, legal, and government measures. However, an atmosphere that is at least less than entirely friendly to women is yet to be realized, and its consistency is largely taken for granted. The percentage of females attaining doctorate degrees in engineering and technology fields has increased marginally in recent years. According to the National Science Foundation report, in 2003 women comprised just below one-third of doctorate degrees in science, while the engineering sector had just below one-tenth of doctorates awarded to females (Rossiter). Yet, few women hold the top-level faculty spots. The National Science Foundation reveals that in 1972 women made up approximately 3 percent of full-time professors in engineering and technology fields; this figure has risen to 10 percent in less than three decades (Rossiter).
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Roles Played by Women in the Development of Science and Technology Fields
The science and technology sectors could not have attained their achievements with the exclusion of the contributions made by women. While their impact has been undeniably significant, it is necessary to highlight concrete examples of the contributions of females in these sectors. Jewel Plummer Cobb and Grace Murray Hopper are case examples worth to be mentioned.
Jewel Plummer Cobb
As a groundbreaking cancer researcher, cell biologist, and a brilliant professor, Jewel Plummer Cobb has had an unquestionable impact on the scientific community. Her research on skin cells that create melanin has reached its culmination when she has shown how the cells develop into cancerous cells (Ceci & Williams). Additionally, she has been in the forefront of campaigns for equal access to professional opportunities and education for women and minorities. Even with personal challenges such as increased sexism and racism Jewel Plummer Cobb has always been committed to utilizing her success for inspiring women to undertake the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering (Ceci &Williams).
In the course of her professional life, Jewel Plummer Cobb worked determinedly to improve opportunities for women to venture into traditionally male-dominated occupations. Of course, there were monetary challenges, but she would turn to private sources for funds. Regardless of the obstacles she faced, she never deviated from her convictions that equal education was vital to a fruitful and independent life (Ceci & Williams). The woman believed that the hindrances that females face in the academic system were encouraged by cumulative disadvantage factors that prevented other women from careers in science, engineering, and technology fields. Jewel Plummer Cobb identified several aspects as deterrents to women in their advancing in male-dominated careers. They were the variance in socialization of the two sexes, weakened self-confidence, and hopes regarding the influence of children on women’s educational careers (Ceci & Williams).
Grace Murray Hopper
Grace Murray Hopper is known for achieving great heights as a woman and an innovator in the technology sector. Having attained a PhD degree in math, her academic achievements were already a rarity among women in the 1930s. In fact, statistics reveals that during the period since 1862 to 1934, a mere 1,279 PhDs in math were awarded (“Grace Murray Hopper”, n.d.). Grace Murray Hopper joined the women volunteer service, which was headed by the Naval Reserve, where she aided in designing a machine that would compute complicated calculations for the military at war. Her dedication to the task helped her team build the first programmable digital computer (“Grace Murray Hopper”, n.d.). After the war, she worked on several projects with key innovators such as the developers of ENIAC, one of the first computers ever created. Her ingenuity helped develop the first computer that used punch cards and the first programming language to incorporate English words (“Grace Murray Hopper”, n.d.).
In the developing world, women have also assumed vital roles in the development of science, technology, and engineering sectors. Lydia Makhubu, for instance, the leader of the Third World Organization for Women in Science and a vice-chancellor of the University of Swaziland, insists that females have to play a pivotal role in shaping of the policies for sustainable development in the changing world (Dickson). Women have customarily been involved in health, energy, and food production industries, which are the focus of development. Due to their intimacy with the family, females have an exceptional attitude to science and its relevance, which highlights the human element of science and technology, as well as its importance in empowering humankind (Dickson).
According to Makhubu, the majority of women choosing scientific careers opt for life sciences (Dickson). The move should be deemed a strong and encouraging action considering the issues of the developing world. She also highlighted that women have been actively involved in dissemination of culture, taking into account their intimate devotion to the education of children. As a result, females have been significant transmitters of norms and values across generations (Dickson).
Due to their success in other fields, women ought to be in the frontline of the incorporation of culture and science, as well as in creating policies for research, and building a future where human needs form a harmonious foundation for scientific and technological endeavors. There is, thus, a need to reevaluate the relevance of females in the technological and scientific enterprises. This is the only way to achieve feasible sustainable development strategies, according to Makhubu (Dickson).
Importance of Women in the Development of Science and Technology Fields
In a 2015 discussion on involving more women in the fields of science and technology for significant growth in Africa, Ayodotun Bobadoye, a Research Officer at the African Technology Policy Study Network, reviewed the overlooked state of science and technology in Africa (“Engaging Women for Africa’s Future: The Role of Women in Science, Technology, and Innovation”). He asserted that approximately 0.4% of GDP in Africa was dedicated to research and development activities, ranking the continent the underdog in research output, numbers of researchers, and the number of registered patents and publications worldwide (“Engaging Women for Africa’s Future: The Role of Women in Science, Technology, and Innovation”). According to Bobadoye, the African Union Strategy for Science, Technology, and Innovation Development is profoundly flawed in its disregard for marginalized groups such as women, despite the fact they make up more than a half of Africa’s population (“Engaging Women for Africa’s Future: The Role of Women in Science, Technology, and Innovation”).
For growth initiatives to flourish, they must include women. Bobadoye proposed various ways to increase female’s involvement in science and technology sectors. First of the proposals includes mainstreaming women into science and technology strategies and policies. Secondly, one can enhance the participation of females by expanding access of young women to scientific education at all levels. Additionally, one can raise awareness of the impact of women on science and technology sectors and ensure ample female representation in policy-making endeavors. Moreover, one can create a universal hub of female scientists that would help in mentorship programs (“Engaging Women for Africa’s Future: The Role of Women in Science, Technology, and Innovation”).
Effects of Technological Change on Roles of Women and Ideas of Gender
In the last three decades, there has been an impressive rise in the number of women earning degrees in engineering, science, and technology disciplines. The growth tends to conceal other characteristics of the science and technology workforce demography. For instance, it masks the decrease in the number of white US men in the fields over recent decades despite they had been dominating the engineering, science, and technology workforce in the United States. However, by trying to balance the numbers, women are now earning more master’s degrees than men.
A 2007 National Science Foundation report affirms that in 2004, US women earned approximately 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and 59 percent of all master’s degrees in all fields (Laurence). In 2000, US females earned more bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering fields than men did, although they earned nearly 44 percent of the master’s degrees in the same fields. In 2004, US women received approximately 61 percent of PhD degrees in sectors other than science and engineering while receiving roughly 45 percent of PhD in science and engineering (Laurence).
The majority of the women who receive PhD in science leave right after they commence with academic employment. They exit the workforce due to certain obstacles that prevent them from continuing in the field or from realizing their full potential as professionals. While some of the barriers are new, Rosser documents that obstacles from three decades ago still linger, but taking the form of different, behavior, language, and structure (Rosser).
The answer to the question why women exit the science, engineering, and technology workforce is not genetic nature or a lack of interest; otherwise, female students would underachieve their male colleagues in colleges. Existing data reveals the contrary: women outdo men in academics and graduate at a higher rate, while having a better attitude towards studies (Jhon, Lee S, & Lee K). Statistical research and case studies concerning those two critical factors are noticeable among the various forces driving women to exit the science, engineering, and technology workforce: the requirement to balance family and career and the lack of proficient networks (Jhon).
Marriage and family come with responsibilities that can shorten a flourishing career of both men and female engineers and scientists. J. Scott Long, a sociologist and statistician, argues in his book that single men and women contribute equally to the science, engineering, and technology workforce (Long). However, a married female with a PhD has a 13 percent less chance of being employed than a married man with equivalent credentials (Long). Moreover, if the woman has young children, she stands a 30 percent less chance of being employed than a single man (Long).
Females’ biological nature is often a cause of the dwindling numbers of qualified women in the workforce. Numerous studies documented women’s tussle to balance family and career life. In a 2004 survey conducted by Rosser, for instance, reveals that of the 450 female engineers and scientists working in research universities, over 70 percent mentioned the mounting pressure they had in trying to strike the balance between family and career (Rosser). They further admitted that this was their primary challenge faced towards attaining professional advancement (Rosser).
Today’s technology has, on the one hand, eased the pressures faced by women in science, engineering, and technology sectors, while, on the other hand, even worsened the situation. Many higher education institutions are revising and improving their policies in response to the global focus on women’s involvement in science, as well as the shortages in science, engineering, and technology workforce due to the security measures launched after September 11, 2001 (Rossiter). The security measures made it hard for skilled non-US workers to acquire US visas. To attract and retain more women to high-tech entrepreneurship and science, there is the need to transform the culture of science and technology into a more family-friendly and inviting venture.
Owing to technological advancements, science, engineering, and technology departments in universities in the United States are incorporating finance, marketing, and management business training programs into graduate education. The increased advancement in technology has forced tech employers seek for employees who are refined in leadership, project management, and business skills. Women often did not receive such mentoring in graduate school, but technology has accelerated the need for training programs, which would eventually help a smoother transition of females into the science, engineering, and technology workforce (Rossiter).
Although men are no longer prohibiting women from their academic laboratories, cultural and institutional biases still exist and cripple female scientists. A solution to curb the inequalities in the workforce, which is low-cost and potentially widely acceptable, is the enforcement of existing antidiscrimination laws by the government. When the sixth, seventh, and the ninth titles of the Civil Rights Act are enforced, biased distribution of resources in faculties in terms of salary supplements, laboratory space, start-up packages, salary supplements, and university funding will no longer exist (Rossite).
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Next, the United States, as a whole, must disallow the depiction of female scientists and engineers as special interest groups. Women comprise almost half of the country’s population and now receive more undergraduate degrees in science than men do. Due to the income advantage that science, engineering, and technology professions bring, the failure to establish family-friendly relationships threatens to segregate women economically. Additionally, a 2006 research by the ‘Engineers Dedicated to a Better Tomorrow’ group affirms that females are more enticed with science, engineering, and technology professions when they consider it a tangible contribution to the society, as well as in improving local communities and the world in general (Rossiter).
In conclusion, the imbalance between men and women in science, engineering, and technology fields has been a major concern for decades. Despite the then-existing barriers to prevailing in male-dominated fields, women have somehow overcome the challenges. Unsung heroes such as Jewel Plummer Cobb and Grace Murray Hopper have had significant roles to play in the areas of science and technology, where they prevailed in the male-dominated professions and inspired women across the globe. The developing world has taken a different shape in identifying the roles played by females in science, engineering, and technology fields, mainly due to their difference in priorities comparing to those of the developed countries. Nonetheless, the significance of women in these fields is acknowledged, and measures to ease the entry of women to these fields are being enacted. Lastly, technological advancements have had its fair share of positive and negative impacts on females in science and engineering fields. However, with the ongoing policies to offer equal opportunities for men and women in the three fields, the future is more promising for the latter of the male-dominated professions.