Cracking the code to get more women in STEM

Anna Ni, Staff reporter

Engineering teacher Christine Allison answers a question from students in her Principles of Engineering class on Oct. 11, 2018. Allison worked as a civil engineer before becoming a teacher. She was the only woman on her engineering team.

Over the last decade, the jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields have become some of the most sought after in the world and continue to increase. But the STEM field is still lacking diversity among race and gender. According to the website Built By Me, while women constitute almost 50 percent of the labor market, only 28 percent are women.

Engineering teacher Christine Allison has experienced what it is like to work in a place that lacked diversity. She said her previous employer was contributing to gentrification by taking down neighborhood restaurants and putting up high rises.

“I think that would not happen so much if maybe [the workplace] were more diversified with people from different backgrounds working together,” Allison said. “All those people that I worked with – every single one of them – were white men.”

Senior Talena Bonilla can vouch that Cleveland’s engineering pathway also lacks girls. Last year, she was one of only a handful of girls in the Robotics Club. According to the club’s advisor, Lucas Sallee, Bonilla was the only girl  to  stick with the team through competition season. When Bonilla tried to recruit her friends, she said they made excuses about being busy.

“But I knew they felt like they didn’t belong there. I have found [few] females in SoED and when there were, they weren’t committed because they underestimated their potential,” she said.

But even though Bonilla finds an imbalanced gender ratio in the school’s Engineering and Design pathway, she thinks that Cleveland as a whole is very diverse.

“If it wasn’t for Cleveland’s diversity, I wouldn’t have come here,” she said. “We feel comfortable when we see people of our own skin.”

It is evident that diversity is important when it comes to representation, but that is not the only reason why girls are not pursuing it the STEM field. Standing out as the only woman is not always a positive experience when sexism comes into play. Allison experienced this issue firsthand, as one of the few women on her previous job’s civil engineering team.

“When you are the only girl, there are certain biases,” Allison said. “Guys wouldn’t trust my answers, and I couldn’t make a mistake because if I did, then that would be all they remembered.”

Allison said the atmosphere gets worse as one moves up the career ladder. She was one of three women out of 30 men on her team. All of the women ended up quitting because they felt uncomfortable in the workplace.

Computer science teacher Meredith Blaché also experienced similar circumstances when she was the only female programmer in all of her college classes.

“I definitely feel like I had to prove myself more because I was a woman,” Blaché said. “Even now, when I go to meetings, guys will think that I don’t know what I’m doing. Even though I was the first person in the whole district to teach a new programming class.”

Sophomore Angelina Martin-Tai is in the Computer Science pathway and has noticed the number of girls in her class compared to the number of boys.

Sophomore Angelina Martin-Tai

“I think girls might think it’s not for them because it is definitely more of a male-dominant profession,” Martin-Tai said. “It makes it harder for some girls to see a future in it because a lot of the jobs would go to the men.”

Martin-Tai said programs like Girls Who Code are a step in the right direction because it makes it more enticing for girls who are hesitant to go into STEM.

Allison agrees that even little change is still a step in the right direction.

“I think giving girls the opportunity and empowering them to the point where they think that they can is important,” she said. “I think that it’s slow but at least it’s there.”