Some like to say things are getting better. Compared to several hundred years ago, to the men’s only scientific society, today’s situation is much better. On first glance, yes, I agree. It is obvious, right? Previously women could not even participate in science and now they are all over the field. We are not even close to the point of equality, however, and the concerning part about this is not in the numbers. Basing the argument on statistics, one would say we are almost there. A few more decades maybe and STEM will not be a guy’s club anymore. I say otherwise, the numbers do not show the extent of the issue and we still have a long road ahead to equality.

Let me lead with an example of how we are approaching this issue currently and what is wrong with our¬†approach. Assume the lead of some STEM department wants to hire more staff and it is obvious that the department lacks diversity. To combat this issue, while hiring, a slight preference is given to female applicants.¬† This works. This approach lessens the impact of the issue. The ratio is now closer to something we are aiming for, but what has actually been accomplished by this move? It fixes the numbers, that’s for sure, but it is necessary to look closer to the root of the issue to understand what is happening.

Assume the department ended up hiring 2 female and 1 male applicant. Heading from what we know about the interest of women in STEM, how does this reflect the applicant pool? I would dare to say that in most cases it shows an inversed image of those numbers. Yes, there are not more women working in the field, but what does that mean if those were the only 2 women that applied amongst a pool of male applicants? For every male applicant, there should be a female applicant, but that is not the case. To understand, it is necessary to look at how events unfolded prior to even sending in that CV.

What goes through one’s mind when deciding what to dedicate their life to? I would think about who I will end up working with, and about the environment, I would be in. That sounds pretty important? Must be very encouraging to a young girl aspiring to be an engineer to look at her idols. Most of them, men. The image these men convey? Though, competitive and mainly spending their times in something akin to the guy’s clubs of the 17th century. Not much progress had, was there? An industry established mid 20th century is strikingly close to what we are trying to move away from. This is why I think we are approaching the problem of women in STEM from the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on the numbers, we should shift our attention to the root. Improving the ideas we plant into the minds of aspiring scientists to better reflect our ideals would help much more and drastically increase female interest in STEM then setting quotas when hiring and pretending to be content with the slightly better statistics.