Academics, researchers and others have long pointed out the disparity of men and women who seek degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and who end up working in those fields. Women are still underrepresented in STEM at nearly every level — and in some fields, starkly so.
Although many are working to address the problem, it's a slow one to fix. Even so, we were excited to read in the Globe on Sunday that women currently in STEM, both educators and students, are dedicated to their fields and to ensuring that other women are supported in their pursuit of STEM.
So why is gender diversity important in STEM?
• To develop better products.
Marsi Archer, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Missouri Southern State University, told the Globe that her grandmother used to say that household appliances must have been designed by men. In other words, if a woman had designed a particular product after regularly using such appliances, perhaps it would be more functional, or easier to use, or more ergonomic.
• To improve women's health.
Some health issues that are common to both men and women actually affect women differently, according to the National Institutes of Health. Heart disease, for example, is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., but women are more likely to die after a heart attack than men are. Additionally, some of these conditions — breast cancer is a good example — primarily affect women or affect women more severely than men.
It's likely that women researchers and scientists would approach health studies differently than men, having a better understanding of women's bodies, backgrounds and risk factors.
• To break new ground.
Where would science be today without the work of Rosalind Franklin, the English chemist who was central to our understanding of DNA? Or Marie Curie, the Polish-French chemist and physicist who studied radioactivity? Think of Lise Meitner, an Austrian-Swedish physicist who helped lead the team that first discovered nuclear fission of uranium; Dorothy Hodgkin, the English chemist who advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography; or Emily Warren Roebling, the American who stepped in to help complete construction of the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband, the project's chief engineer, died.
It won't happen overnight, but we can move our society toward a 50-50 split between men and women in the STEM fields. Parents and teachers, encourage your female students to take math and science classes in school, and if you see a spark of interest, fan that flame.
Our community, our world, can only become stronger because of it.