Point of View: The STEM Gender Gap (2024)

In this episode, host Estella Weeks sits down with opinion writer Eseudel Jang and computer science major Caroline Zurcher and discusses the possible reasons why more women aren’t participating in STEM fields and majors.



Estella Weeks: Welcome back to Point of View, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s opinion podcast. I’m Estella Weeks, your host, and today we are with Estelle Jang. Estelle, thank you so much for coming on. Would you mind explaining kind of what you do here at the Chrony?

Eseudel Jang: Well, thanks for inviting me. So, my name is Eseudal Jang. I go by Estelle, and I’m working as an opinion writer for the Chrony. And this is my second semester.

Estella Weeks: Awesome. And have you been liking it so far?

Eseudel Jang: I love it. Yeah, I love writing about these articles, these opinion articles.

Estella Weeks: Awesome, so speaking of opinion articles, you kind of recently wrote an article about Utah’s women in STEM. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. So just to clarify, you’re not a STEM major, are you?

Eseudel Jang: No, I’m not.

Estella Weeks: Okay. And so, when you were doing research for this story, what were some of the biggest disparities you found in the STEM field specifically about gender?

Eseudel Jang: So specifically, about gender, the biggest disparity was simply the number of women in STEM fields. So, I was surprised when one of my interviewees mentioned that she could count the number of females in her class, like on one hand, like on five fingers. So, I think it appears that female students in Utah are having fewer opportunities in STEM. And maybe, and I think that one of the biggest reasons is the gender stereotype behind them.

Estella Weeks: Talk more about that gender stereotype; why do you think that is?

Eseudel Jang: Because like, especially in Utah, I think that the STEM fields are mostly male-dominated. And I think there are more kinds of these stereotypes and thoughts that STEM is just for men. And yeah, one of my research shows that, like Utah, shows those stereotypical thoughts like higher than other compared to other states. So, I thought that this is a great problem, this is a great issue, a big issue in Utah that I should be discussing about.

Estella Weeks: And do you think that it’s a big issue in Utah, because of a cultural thing? Or why do you maybe think that it could be?

Eseudel Jang: Maybe a cultural thing, but also my interviewees said like, I don’t know if it’s only for Utah, but like especially in hiring process, there’s kind of this like um, discrimination going around because um most of them just don’t hire women. Because they, like, genuinely respect them as a person like as, human to human, but they just do it for diversity’s sake. So that’s why an interviewee told me so yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest problems for regarding that gender stereotype.

Estella Weeks: Okay. And it sounds like from what I read is that getting women involved, period, is pretty hard, because clearly, we’re not seeing the numbers in, you know, our classes of a lot of women. It doesn’t seem very equal. So, this kind of sounds like a problem that stems from a younger age. So you mentioned that classes in STEM really aren’t required in elementary schools and middle schools and high schools? Do you think that there should be a sort of requirement for regardless of gender, everybody to be taking those types of classes? Just to introduce them to it?

Eseudel Jang: Yes, definitely. Because it’s important for Utah schools, like there are not many Utah schools that require STEM, like students to take STEM fields. So, I think giving girls more chances to try different STEM subjects will definitely help it, help them like, just for trying, and also like, we should admit, and acknowledge that there is a stereotype that’s already going on like that, that STEM is more for boys, and it’s already male dominated. So that’s why we need more like active support for girls in exploring their abilities in this area, so they can find their like hidden potential. So also, studies show, like while I was doing the research, one of the studies shows that both boys and girls perform equally well in math and science on standardized tests. And so, this shows that we need to encourage more girls to recognize their abilities, because they can do it, but they just don’t recognize themselves.

Estella Weeks: Yeah. And do you think that that’s a reason that so many girls are kind of turned away from the field is because of those?

Eseudel Jang: Yeah, because they, like most of them lack confidence, because they’re just scared to compete with this full of man like in their classes. So yeah, they just don’t take initiative. That’s what my interviewee said, told me also, yeah.

Estella Weeks: What do you think some of the ways we can encourage girls to go into STEM could be what kind of supporting factors could we have for them?

Eseudel Jang: So first, we absolutely need more support and encouragement for women in STEM. So, it’s important for women to take initiative too so that it’s their responsibility, but in reality, like it’s very tough, so we need more collective support from everyone. So, this is what everyone should be, like really care about. There should be more proactive hiring of women, um not just for diversity’s sake, but with like genuine respect for them. And also especially the pay gap. Like there should be no like pay gap between males and females just because of the gender, just because of the gender difference. So, it’s important for like employees to really take this seriously, and respect women, and just respect their professional abilities so they can, so more girls can be more inspired to take this stuff. Yeah.

Estella Weeks: Okay. And specifically, let’s focus on university. What kind of university initiatives should be taken in order to kind of encourage the girls that are in STEM to keep going and be there and be motivated and committed to finish in STEM?

Eseudel Jang: In my opinion, I think there should be more student leader groups or more supportive groups. So, like, just so that girls don’t feel isolated, because there’s so small number of girls are taking STEM fields, they just need to get, they just need to get together and really speak up for themselves. Yeah, I think those actions should be like more proactive actions are needed.

Estella Weeks: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s school initiated, right?

Eseudel Jang: Yeah, school initiative. And also I think girls should really take initiative and really speak up for themselves and just take leadership roles in their classes. Yeah.

Estella Weeks: Yeah, so you mentioned you’re not in STEM. You personally, how would you feel to be in a STEM field? Like, do you feel like you would feel encouraged or polarized out of it?

Eseudel Jang: Yeah, if I was them. So, I’m a journalism major. I’m a woman who isn’t interested in STEM at all. But so, I also used to think that the lack of females in STEM fields is kind of a normal phenomenon. Because not all women are really interested in STEM fields. But oh, while I was doing researching and writing about this topic, I just found that there’s a significant systemic issue in Utah society, and that they really undermine the confidence of women studying STEM. So, I think that I empathize with them, because I would also feel like uncomfortable in their position. So, I wanted to really write about this topic to raise awareness that discrimination actually exists. And students really experienced those things. And it’s not something that only women should address, but everyone should really care about.

Estella Weeks: At the end of the day it kind of affects everyone because it affects the industry as a whole.

Eseudel Jang: It is and it’s a social issue, not just as problem that women like women are struggling with. Yeah, yeah.

Estella Weeks: Well, Estelle, thank you so much for coming on and talking about this today. I’m looking forward to reading some of your stories that you’ll put out this summer. Do you plan on doing that?

Eseudel Jang: Yeah, I’m actually writing about it now.

Estella Weeks: Awesome. Okay, we’ll have to have you on again, thank you so much for coming on.

Eseudel Jang: Thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you.

Estella Weeks: So, I wanted to bring on someone who has more first-hand experience with some of the issues we just talked about. Everyone welcome Caroline Zurcher. Caroline, would you mind introducing your major, how long you’ve been doing it, and what got you initially interested in that sort of thing?

Caroline Zurcher: Yeah. So, I’m in the computer science major here at the U, and this is my second year in that major. And what got me kind of interested is my dad is in computer science as a career and watching him have access to amazing technology and being able to work with others to help improve the technological world um kind of helped inspire me to do that. And throughout my middle school and high school years, I kind of played around with aspects of that such as something called Scratch, which is block coding for younger children, which you make games with blocks, basically, in graphic design. I kind of made my own projects for school, kind of over the top, but I enjoyed doing stuff like that growing up.

Estella Weeks: So, it sounds like you’ve been interested in it for a while.

Caroline Zurcher: Yeah, yeah, I have. I’d say kind of sparked interest around end of my middle school freshman year, when I began asking my dad some questions kind of about what his day-to-day life was at work, and kind of what he was able to work with. And it’s kind of just sparked an interest in me to kind of explore that major. And I love it so far.

Estella Weeks: With it being such a male-dominated industry, have you ever been discouraged to go into it? Or have you ever felt a little bit of pushback?

Caroline Zurcher: Yeah, for sure. Growing up, none of my female — I had primarily female friends — and none of my female friends were really interested in engineering or STEM at all. So, I kind of felt like the black sheep of my friend group, and I felt intimidated. When I tell people with sort of my interests, they would often say, like, oh, this is really hard. There’s a lot of math involved, and there’s gonna be tons of competition, and that kind of made me feel discouraged. And I have a younger brother who’s 17, and he wants to go into engineering, and when I see him tell people he wants to go into engineering, they’re like, “Oh, that’s so amazing. You’ll do so good.” There’s just that opposition there in response, just I feel like it’s just due to a difference in gender, there.

Estella Weeks: That’s super interesting that you bring up that your brother’s interested in it as well. So, do you feel like when you expressed interest in computer science, the only reason that people would ever kind of discourage you from going into it was because you’re a woman?

Caroline Zurcher: Yeah, I feel that way. Because a lot of times, they don’t really know me and my kind of educational experience, and they haven’t really asked me about my interests and how it kind of led up to it, they just immediately go for, “oh, that’s gonna be so hard.” And I feel like it’s definitely because of my gender. As statistics obviously show most of the people who go into engineering are males. That’s kind of what people expect in today’s society. So definitely depends on gender, I feel like.

Estella Weeks: So, in any of your classes, have you ever felt out of place or polarized in the class setting?

Caroline Zurcher: Yes, for sure, I’d say. So, I just had a class. There’s about 150 students, and I’d say, maybe 30 students were women are what I was seeing, which is extremely intimidating. And I’ve talked with other friends in my class that are women and they have felt that their partners — I’m not saying all of the men in this class are like that, but a lot of the female friends I have in that class say partners they’ve had for assignments have been really aggressive towards them, and kind of gaslit their responses and suggestions to problems. And that definitely is intimidating to me. And I think to them as well, when they receive that sort of feedback from their peers. And I think in general, when the majority of the professors are male, and the majority of the students are male, that can come off just discouraging, especially when they have responses like that. And I think seeing a higher female participation would help something like that.

Estella Weeks: You’re kind of now on the topic of what differences could we make in order to kind of promote this type of work for women. So, what other things could the University of Utah institute to kind of make female computer science majors or STEM majors for that fact, just feel more comfortable.

Caroline Zurcher: I think, personally, my experience when I came into the computer science degree, there wasn’t really a friendly environment or any sort of community I could relate to and I think establishing maybe a club for specific STEM majors, not just women in STEM, but women in biology, women in computer science, women in Data Science, I think that would help a lot, just being able to connect with other women, and help build a strong community to have people to turn to that. Maybe you’re more comfortable with if you’re comfortable in that way. And having that initially, as a great resource for incoming STEM students could definitely increase participation when they see “oh, here’s a group I could align with and express my interest with and take some classes with and have friends from the start.” Because I went into it very intimidated. When I walked into my class, seeing a bunch of males — me personally, I am able to make friends with females easier. And I just kind of felt isolated. So, I think having that initial community could definitely help if the University of Utah could have maybe a club or an event they host that is easily accessible. That could definitely help and just holding events throughout your degree, maybe social events or study groups, where it’s primarily women, I think, would definitely help in that situation.

Estella Weeks: Yeah. You mentioned that you had been interested in it since you were younger, those programs where you used Scratch and stuff like that. Were those classes required by your school, or did you always just gravitate towards those like, I’m just curious as to if those classes were required for everybody to take or you went out of your way to do it.

Caroline Zurcher: They were definitely not required, and I was disappointed in high school to see there were very few classes that I could take relating to that. I did it kind of in my own time. My dad kind of introduced me to that stuff. And when I went out of my way for like graphic designer to make something for a school project that it wasn’t a specific computer science class, it was just like maybe an English class. And that I just kind of went out of my way, just wanted to express my own personal interest. But yeah, in high school, there was maybe one or two classes, there was an intro, and then a graphic design class. So yeah, not many options there throughout my school.

Estella Weeks: And do you think maybe requiring certain STEM classes — because I know when I was younger, we had like a STEM bus that came one time, and we were more than welcome to go inside and look, but it wasn’t ever required that the girls or the boys, anybody would go in and take the classes, but a lot of the boys would. And I remember, that’s why I’m not personally, that’s not my major. And that’s not what I’m interested in. But I also feel like I was never pushed to be interested in STEM, I was never encouraged. “This is really cool. You should do this.” You know what I mean? So, I feel like that was kind of maybe from the time we were young. Do you think that if we were to maybe institute required classes, not just for girls to take but for everybody to take? Do you think that would maybe get more women encouraged in the field? Or how do you feel like we could encourage more girls to be interested from the start?

Caroline Zurcher: Yeah, I think there are a few STEM classes that are required, like biology and math, chemistry and those ideas surrounding those classes. Everyone hates them, does not want to take them. And I think having more options. And yeah, I definitely think having more required STEM classes, like maybe an engineering class, just kind of an introduction. Because what I’m only seeing is life science and math, in high school and middle school. And I think requiring different varieties of classes that students can choose from, not just having it as an option, but you have to choose from this set of classes and having intro classes so they can kind of express an interest would definitely increase participation in STEM personally, is what I think. And, yeah, so being required to do that, I think would help females kind of feel more gravitated towards things like that when there’s some variety to choose from.

Estella Weeks: WellCaroline, thank you so much for coming on and talking with me about this. I know it’s kind of a interesting subject. As you kind of pointed out, it is a super male dominated field and I hope in the future, we’re able to kind of have more inclusivity with it and encourage more girls to go into it. So, thank you so much for coming on today.

Caroline Zurcher: Thank you for having me.

Estella Weeks: Thank you for listening to Point of View, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s opinion podcast. I’m your host Estella Weeks, and stay tuned for more episodes releasing this summer.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Host/Producer: Estella Weeks

Estella Weeks – The Daily Utah Chronicle

Guest: Eseudel Jang

Eseudel Jang – The Daily Utah Chronicle

Guest: Caroline Zurcher


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