Across the globe, women are entering STEM fields at higher rates than ever before. On campus, UT has a number of organizations and conferences to support female STEM students, such as the Association for Women in Science and the INSPIRE conference for female leadership.
In spite of these efforts, female students at UT are still underrepresented in many traditional STEM majors, such as mathematics, physics, computer science and engineering — and many women in STEM at UT report additional burdens and discrimination because of their gender.
UT is missing half the equation. While it’s important to provide resources for women in STEM, women shouldn’t be the only ones promoting an inclusive environment. UT should develop programs to educate men in STEM fields about exclusion, gender discrimination and how they can be effective allies.
“You constantly ask yourself, ‘Is this because I’m a woman?’” said Julia York, ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student. “Even if that’s not what’s actually happening, it’s constantly in the back of your mind. I think a lot of men don’t have to think about that.”
Women in STEM fields often face pressure to perform well academically and conform to stereotypes.
“You feel like you’re representing your whole identity group, all women, so you have to do well,” York said. “And you also worry about how you’re coming off. You want to be assertive, ask questions in class, speak up, but you also don’t want to seem angry or aggressive.”
The STEM field clearly needs improvement, but women shouldn’t have to assume sole responsibility for fixing it.
“There’s so many programs to help women in STEM and educate women in STEM, but it’s not all about changing women’s behavior,” York said. “All these groups are run by women. While they’re helpful, it can be a burden on women to have to be the ones to create these spaces. It’s quite a lot to deal with in addition to (the) mental and emotional work you have to consider when you’re a woman in STEM.”
Expecting women in STEM to create a conference or group for male STEM students would be another burden for women to bear.
“If the University created some more formal scaffolding for a program for men, that would be amazing,” said Sophie Sanchez, neuroscience graduate student and president of the Association for Women in Science at UT.
Men in STEM agree their departments need change, but they are unsure how to initiate it.
“We know that there are issues, that there’s not a lot of women in our programs, but we don’t really know what to do, so we sit back and hope someone else will fix it,” said Beau Lourcey, aerospace engineering and Plan II freshman.
William Nacci, biomedical engineering and Plan II freshman, said male students rarely discuss issues of gender disparity.
“I think a program or discussion group headed by the University is a good idea, because many men aren’t vocal about gender disparity in STEM,” Nacci said. “We don’t acknowledge the problems.”
It’s time for men to join the conversation. Whether it’s sponsoring a new student organization, holding a conference or including a seminar in undergraduate STEM courses, UT must encourage male STEM students to be effective allies for women in STEM. Women work hard to make STEM an inclusive, supportive field — men should, too.
Zaksek is a Plan II and women’s and gender studies major from Allen.