OMG UPDATE: Question? Answer.

Updated on Thursday, December 5

#5483

QUESTION: As a followup to a response on #5450... If you're a woman in a STEM program: what kinds of sexism have you encountered at university? Some of you may have not, which is great! but isn't the norm.

If you're a person who believes no sexism in these fields exists, or that women just innately don't like STEM, why? (Keep in mind in China/India, the breakdown between men and women in STEM is 50/50. So either their women are biologically different [unlikely...] or there are big cultural differences keeping women out of STEM in the west.)

16 comments

  1. I can confidently say that it is probably because Canada is so disgustingly sexist.

    We need to be more like India. India has got womens right DOWN PAT you know? If only we were more like India. Or china for that matter! I don't know why we are such cavemen about it (More like cave WOMEN amirite girls?) but we could learn a lot from these shining examples of tolerance and acceptingness.

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    1. Your point of view is very valuable to this debate.

      Take note folks because this is an important part of the issue. In an attempt to trivialize the discussion, one poster has made a comment that pretty much amounts to saying :

      'whatever, why don't you try going to india and getting gang raped and murdered on a bus. i'm not gonna listen to some woman tell me how STEM fields are made unwelcoming to women. instead of complaining she should be happy that she wasn't murdered as an infant just for being born a girl in china. '

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  2. I don't know if these are kinds of sexism so much as examples where sexual discrimination has restricted the kind of choices I've had while pursuing a STEM career/education. Here are a few of the examples that come to my mind:

    1. Turned down from a co-op interview because I am female (the job was in the middle east and the company was providing housing).

    2. Told by a mentor to pursue opportunities only in big companies because when (it was assumed that this would happen at some point) I was sexually harassed, I would be better defended at a larger company. This advice would pretty much mean that I shouldn't even apply to over 50% of jobs and I followed that advice for a significant amount of time.

    3. Seeing male colleagues go out to events outside of work that I was never invited to. This might seem small but over the long term when you're trying to develop a career and build a network, it adds up to a lot of missed opportunities.

    4. During an in-class presentation, getting blatantly ignored by the instructor who asked questions of only my male group members.

    5. All the derogatory little jokes and comments that are made by my friends and classmates about women that are so common, I've stopped noticing them. I know that they are wrong but it feels like more trouble to bring these comments up than it's worth.

    And there's probably much more... So to anyone out there, don't be afraid of being a stick in the mud and standing up for what you believe is right. Hopefully in the long term it's going to make this place better for everyone.

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    1. Actually, re point #2, I had a mentor say a similar thing, and he was male. He said that as soon as you have a strong HR department, harassment and exclusion and the like tends to disappear. And it's not even actual complaints that does it... just the presence of more women and the clear message that certain behavior is not welcome.

      I guess he was at the company for 18 years and had seen it change from testosterone-fuelled startup success story to mature company.

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  3. I've been involved in discussions about this sort of thing with groups on campus before, such as WiE (the admin run one, not the student group), and the underrepresentation of women I'm stem fields starts far before work or post secondary. You start to lose girls in elementary school. I don't deny that sexism is still quite common in the work force, but I don't think it's responsible for the underrepresentation. IMO it has to do more with how certain fields are portrayed in media. Look at engineering vs. medical field. The medical field is portrayed as much more glamorous. You have shows like greys anatomy and private practice where you have attractive successful women doctors, where as engineering has... Tony Stark and Dilbert. Even when neither profession is mentioned directly, the go-to major for a character's successful child is doctor or lawyer. I think this also explains the lack of disparity in India and China, as those are cultures that put value on any profession that requires post secondary, including STEM.

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    1. How would you explain something like, say, the huge drops in female enrollment in a lot of these programs from
      1. beginning of undergrad to end of undergrad
      2. graduate/PhD programs to faculty?

      Additionally, given that no individual or even lobby group can control the media, how do you purport to fix this?

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    2. Not #3 but I never really noticed the drop for female enrollment in either of the areas you are speaking of, they are about the same in proportion to the male statistics.

      And #3 gave a reason why they think STEM has low female representation, OP never asked for a solution, just a reason. Obviously it is not an easy fix to change an entire society's view on an issue.

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    3. ^ mm, definitely not true about PhD to faculty. Women PhD % vs faculty % is much higher.

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    4. 3 here. I can only speak to undergraduate Engineering, as that is the only area I have seen data for, but proportionally, more men drop out between first year and graduation than women.

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  4. Woman in STEM program here (math) - and I don't think I've encountered any overt sexism in my 5 years at Waterloo. I've also had some amazing mentors in my time here, and I know my gender was never a factor in any of those relationships. I have heard a LOT of "oh I'm surprised you're in math, I wouldn't guess that", which has sometimes made me feel like I don't belong and should consider doing something where I would fit in more. Generally though I feel lucky to have missed out on some of the sexism I've heard of.

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    1. Are you in Actsci or Double degree? Those programs are nearly 50/50, so I wouldn't expect much issues there. CS, on the other hand, is nearly 90/10 men to women...

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  5. I'm a girl in an engineering program that is about 7% women. Some things that I've had to deal with that my male classmates probably haven't include:

    1. Feeling pressured to do things I don't want to do. In the past this has included making out with someone, leaving a party with someone, getting more drunk than I would like, taking off my top, etc. When there are a bunch of drunk males in one place and you are way outnumbered, it can seem like something that the guys are doing "all in good fun" but if I ever feel uncomfortable there is always some feeling that I am being a spoilsport, "being a girl", etc. People aren't always understanding.

    2. Feeling like a number or a statistic. Whether that be in the eyes of admin, or a guy who is trying to keep score of how many girls are in his class, or a guy who is keeping score on how many he has gotten with. Being a girl in engineering essentially makes me a statistic and a prize to be won.

    3. Feeling out of place in many situations. In class, in labs, in the workforce. For example, being pushed to the side in a hands-on lab or demo, being left out of a "guys night" at work, being outright rejected from jobs based on (I suspect) my gender (such as one mining job in particular, where the workforce is 99% male (the 1% is admin) and the boss always gets buddy-buddy with his always-male coop student and would have felt uncomfortable with me being there). I also know what company #2 is referring to as well, because I have been rejected from the same position for being female.

    Feeling disqualified, left out, or out of place makes it very hard to get ahead in this field as a female, because at the same time my male coworkers are schmoozing their way to the top by getting close to the male management force through bonding and other similar things. With hardly any female role models and mentors in the workplace, it can be very difficult, which forces me to work very hard to prove my worth, since I can't make connections as easily as a man could.

    Not to mention all the inappropriateness that has come up when I have tried to get closer with a male mentor in a workplace in the past, leaving me feel uncomfortable and not wanting to get into a similar situation in the future. Creepy male bosses are the worst.

    4. Not being taken seriously (happens ALL THE TIME, extremely frustrating).

    5. Implications that women are weak or lesser being made here and there, through jokes, stereotypes, etc. I don't take offense at individual comments because usually they are pretty harmless but it does add up. I also have to hear people address the whole class as "boys", "guys", etc and I assume I am included but it would be nice to not have to infer all the time.

    It's really not all bad though, I know the guys and girls in my class have my back and we act like siblings, its not something I feel like I am "suffering" or "enduring", but it still affects me in some way. I feel like I am always proving myself, rather than just being able to live my life.

    I do love what I study though and would never pick a different degree. I feel like I have to work a lot harder and deal with more than my male classmates have to, but it is definitely worth it.

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    1. whaaaat?! what horrible class are you in?!
      4th year eng girl here too in a class that has a similar statistic of male/female ratio. the only one i can relate to is number 4. I don't know if its because I'm a girl or because i can occasionally get ditsy but ppl dont always take me seriously.

      the rest of it, ESPECIALLY number 1.. has never happened to me!

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    2. @5a It's not my class that's horrible, I love my class! It's just experiences in general, with people and jobs that I have encountered.

      I didn't make any of this up, and I don't feel like I'm exaggerating either, but having it all listed in one place probably make it seem worse than it is. The good parts of my university experience far outweigh the bad. Engineering may feel like more work for me than for the average male (from my perspective, at least) but it has brought me more opportunities than it has cost me, in the long run :)

      Also, the stuff in #1 mostly happened to me in first year, back when I was very trusting and didn't want to offend anyone by not playing along with whatever the guys were up to. I have learned a lot from my mistakes and these things still sort of happen but I am better at sticking up for myself than I once was, that's for sure. I guess that stuff can happen anywhere but I think because I am in so many situations where I am the only girl, it might just happen to me more often.

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    3. Are you at least hot? Because usually hot people have higher self esteem and don't take their tops off for drunk brown dudes. Just saying

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    4. Thanks for sharing 5 and 5.c go fuck yourself

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