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Women in STEM Fields Still StruggleEfforts are needed to achieve gender equality

   
 
  ▲ A female engineer is standing at her workplace.  

/Photography from Google

   Last August, Isis Wenger, a female engineer working in an IT start-up, “OneLogin,” appeared in an advertisement photo recruiting engineers for “OneLogin.” The advertising phrase was a common slogan, such as “My team is great. Everyone is smart, creative and hilarious.” However, unexpected responses arouse towards the advertisement when it was uploaded on SNS. Some people left comments saying that the photo was not suitable because Isis does not look like an ordinary engineer and that the advertisement would attract only men. For her part, Isis said that such discriminative prejudice limits gender roles and opportunities for women in the field of sciences. She also launched a hashtag campaign called “#iLookLikeAnEngineer.” A lot of women in the engineering industry joined the campaign, posting their photos of various looks. This provoked an issue about gender equality in natural sciences and engineering fields.

 

Working in STEM fields as a woman

   As the Wenger’s incident suggests, there is still a stereotype of women in STEM fields which is one of the causes of the low rate of women in regarding areas: technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to a report on gender wage differentials in the ICT industry from Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI), the proportion of women working in the ICT as specialists, and in engineering is only 16.4 percent. Also, the number of male researchers makes up much higher percentage than female researchers in the field of science. According to National Research Council of Science & Technology, only 1,080 out of 11,446 researchers in government-supported research institutes are women as of June this year. This figure is equivalent to 11.4 percent. These statistics clearly indicate that the gender equality is a long way off in the fields of STEM.

   In addition, women working in STEM fields are struggling to keep their careers. According to the March issue of Harvard business, 41 percent women who entered the technology industry quit their jobs, whereas only 17 percent of men dropped out. KISDI presented that the period of service between men and women in ICT industry is so far apart. The period of service of women is about 4.9 years while that of men is about 7.5 years on average.

   Such phenomenon is caused by the male-dominated community in STEM areas, which leads women to have difficulties in resuming their work after marriage and childbirth. Oh Kyoung-suk, a senior researcher from National Fusion Research Institute and Plasma Technology Research Center, said, “My female colleagues are usually unable to have enough maternity leave. Technology changes very fast, and the timing is important in the engineering fields, so most of the engineers put their jobs before family. This requires female engineers to make sacrifices in Korean culture.” Lack of women in STEM fields can hinder women’s new entrance onto the field and persistence of women’s career. Lee So-young, CEO/Ph.D of Seahyun Korea said, “There has been a man-dominated task processing in science and engineering fields. Therefore, networking among women is extremely weak. Women, who go through pregnancy and parenting, have burden of career discontinuity. ”

 

Female university students in STEM agonizing over their options

   The rate of females in the STEM fields is low in universities as well, even though it is growing. According to the Korean Women’s Development Institute, female university students in natural sciences and engineering from four-year-course colleges in Korea form about 30 percent on average. As for Dongguk University, the proportion of female students in the Engineering College is 27.8 percent.

   In terms of employment rate of female students majoring in STEM fields, it is relatively higher than other majors. However, because the number of female students in STEM fields is much lower from the beginning, the ratio of female students choosing to work in STEM areas is also low. Counting six working fields, construction, manufacturing, medical, oil, electronics, and telecommunications industries as STEM fields, only 29.1 percent of female students from Dongguk University chose to work in those areas after graduation in the past five years, whereas 42.6 percent of male students determined to work in the areas. Among those areas, working in the telecommunications industry was the most favored option, with 7.6 percent as a portion of the total of female graduates, which is lower than the rate of female students who choose careers related to culture, education and law (16.3 percent). As indicated above, the lack of women in science and engineering still has its roots in education.

   Female students majoring in science and engineering are usually concerned about their career because there are not sufficient precedents. Cho Yoon-seo, studying in Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), said, “I think gender diversity in science and engineering fields is going to get better. However, I am still worried whether I should choose to work or not, in those areas which are full of male workers. The number of men in those fields is a lot more than women, which makes me feel anxious sometimes.”   Lee Han-sol, majoring in Ploymer-nano engineering from Chonbuk National University, said, “I want to work in a research service after obtaining a degree, but I am concerned that I might not adapt to working environment because the rate of women is very low.”

 

Efforts to achieve gender diversity in STEM fields

   As the scarcity of women in STEM fields is being widely recognized, efforts to achieve gender diversity are still on going. Currently, the Korean government implemented an act on fostering and supporting women scientists and Technicians. According to this policy, there are some efforts to increase female human resources in STEM fields. For instance, the proportion of women in designated 108 research institutes is reflected to their institution assessment. In addition, WISET, a center supporting women in STEM fields is carrying out pre-education for female high school students. Through this, inflow of female students majoring sciences and engineering would increase, and also performance would improve to strengthen their capabilities, contributing to the advancement of science and technology. For women who experienced career discontinuity, there is a service that helps them to return to work.

   One key step for female university students to build their careers after graduation, has been the development of a mentoring program. This has come about through WISET. It conducts a mentoring program that liaises between female workers and students in STEM fields. Through the mentoring program, students can listen to stories of mentors’ experiences and gain a greater understanding of their career direction. A mentee students of this program, Lee Han-sol, studying Ploymer-nano engineering, said, “I could meet experts in science fields and listen to advices from them through this program, and meeting female specialists in STEM fields allowed me to become more  passionate.”

   The Institute for Information & Communication Technology Procession also runs a mentoring program for female students in STEM fields called “Eve and ICT Mentoring.” This program helps female university students to foster their practical skills and abilities to meet challenges. A mentor in this program, Lee So-young, mentioned above, said, “This program helps students to experience on-site task process that they cannot learn in school. In addition, students can have passion and develop creativity, which is essential in the industries of the 21st century.”

   Balance between the genders in science and engineering  fields is lost. Plenty of female workers in those areas still do not have the chance to show the results of their work. Participation of women in science and engineering is not only about gender equality but also about the development of science and technology. A mentor of WISET mentoring program, Oh Kyoung-Suk, a senior researcher from National Fusion Research Institute, said, “Gender diversity in work place softens and stabilizes the inflexible environment, and it can also promote more creativity.” Doctor Lee of Seahyun Korea, said, “It is about time to build up industrial ecosystem with women in accordance with the 21st century of diversity. Women in STEM fields also have to go along with the current developing industrial structure.” It is required to have improved awareness and a better system to reach the gender diversity in STEM fields.

You Eun-sun  esyou05@dongguk.edu

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  • Agueztvierra 2015-12-01 21:11:03

    That is an excellent point! According to a few stieuds, role models and mentors do make a difference. I'm hoping to write more about this. One assessment called the athena factor looked at women in science/engineering/technology and did find that women who have sponsors were less likely to consider leaving the field than those without sponsors.   삭제

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