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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Women in STEM initiatives push flawed focus | Opinions - University of Pittsburgh The Pitt News

Neena Hagen, Senior Columnist, primarily writes about politics and local issues argues, "As a female actuarial mathematics student, you don’t have to tell me that my gender puts me in the minority in my academic field."

That’s why I’m never surprised when feminist activists point out the gender gap in STEM — what really loses me is how they tell me I should feel about it.

Photo: Abigail Katz, Staff Illustrator

Universities across the country seem determined to jump on the bandwagon — holding their own women-only networking events and Q&A sessions to combat the supposedly rampant discrimination against women in technical fields.

Eager to take advantage of the special opportunities afforded to me as a woman, I decided to attend two women in STEM events right here in Pittsburgh.

The first one — sponsored by Pitt’s chapter of Society of Women Engineers last month — allowed attendees to spend six hours listening to keynote speakers, socializing with peers and networking with established employees in engineering-oriented firms. Among the speakers at this event was Barbara Staniscia, whose “pyramid for success” detailed a simple recipe for greatness in STEM fields. The formula included poise, passion and a technical foundation, a formula not only for women, but for any prospective STEM student.

And Robert Morris University’s “Empowering Women in Actuarial Science” event on March 16 featured a panel discussion between four female actuaries — Allison Young from Erie Insurance, Tove Stigum from Highmark, Lara Will from New York Life and Diane Keller, who works for Principal.

Both initiatives had good intentions — promoting STEM fields to a women where men outnumber them four to one. But they unfortunately misdiagnosed the reasons women remain underrepresented in science, and put forward solutions to the problems that miss the mark for women who actually choose to go into STEM.

Many involved in organizing events like these suggest we need women in STEM initiatives to make up for the constant discrimination they face in technical fields. These ideas seem to be conventional wisdom, but no panelist at RMU pointed to examples where they faced explicit sexism in their career.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have male colleagues who almost always respect and support me,” Stigum said.

If discrimination truly was a huge barrier to women trying to enter STEM fields, surely most panelists would have grueling stories about their victimization at the hands of a patriarchal industry — but the gender gap in STEM being attributed to discrimination is a complete distortion.

A 2016 study from the University of Glasgow that examined Scandinavia, the most progressive region in the world, suggested there are elements to the gender gap in STEM unrelated to women’s opportunity to pursue those fields. 

Source: University of Pittsburgh The Pitt News

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