We know the key to getting girls interested in STEM is having them actually see women working in STEM fields. Unfortunately, the visibility into these fields that flood the media affect how women in STEM are talked to and treated. We talked to real women working in STEM about the most pervasive stereotypes they’re sick of hearing and what the reality actually looks like.
1. Serious scientists don’t wear makeup.
“People have literally told me ‘Oh, you obviously don’t take your work very seriously if you spent all that time getting dolled up.’ We need to be proving that anyone and everyone we meet could be an individual in STEM. I like to feel pretty and confident in my appearance which makes me more confident in my work, especially [in] presentations and things like that.” –Natalie Hahn, Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Future Leaders
2. STEM skills arrive at birth, no work required.
“I get really bothered by the portrayal of “math people”—people who are naturally gifted at math and seem to magically do ridiculous math in their heads in tense situations. Sure, those people exist, but we miss out on stories of people who work hard to get good at math. I really struggled with math, but now I’m excellent at it and have a degree in a math field. And I use pen, paper, whiteboards, and calculators. I want training montages where people really suck at math, and then they work hard and get good at it! ” – Elizabeth Viera-Patron, Software Engineer
3. All women in STEM are awkward nerds.
“For a lot of women to survive in the male-dominant STEM world, they can’t be awkward or shy. The few women I know on the job are some of the more direct and confident women I know but are also friendly and interested in things that aren’t just their work.” – D.J. Richardson, Software Developer
4. STEM means knowing how to hack the mainframe.
“A lot of times when I say I’m studying CS people automatically ask ‘So you know how to hack?’ I’m not tech support and breaching a security wall is literally a federal crime. As a Latina woman…I never felt represented. People thinking that we’re these super-geniuses who can hack into the FBI and fix any computer are just so out of touch. This stereotype hurts people—especially POCs and girls—who are looking to get into tech, but feel they shouldn’t because they don’t fit this stereotype.” –Marleni Chavana, GitHub Campus Expert
5. Women aren’t as talented as male counterparts.
“Google ‘Women in STEM history’ and you’ll see that women were the foundation of tech. [Thinking men are better at their jobs than we are] is irritating because it’s a bad attitude, and a counterproductive one. Odds are we’re working toward a similar goal.” – Carissa Lintao, CEO of Apptuitive