By Shanon Quinn
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho.
The number of women in the U.S. workforce has increased dramatically during the past 50 years, but women are still vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, according to the United States Department of Commerce.
More than 75 percent of jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are held by men. The percentage has gone unchanged throughout the past decade despite efforts to recruit more women into such fields.
There may be several factors relating to the gender gap, including a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and a lack of family-friendly flexibility in the fields, according the department’s report, “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.” Regardless of the cause, the report’s authors said their findings are clear: There is a need to encourage and support women in STEM.
Alyssa Norris works at Washington State University as a mentor coordinator for the Women’s Mentoring Program, which she said pairs 15-25 students per year with professionals in their field.
“The dropout rate for women in engineering, even at WSU, is just phenomenal,” Norris said. “The girls who participate in this mentor program, almost none of them drop out. We have a very high retention rate among the people who participate in this program.”
The program has been in existence for about a decade and is beneficial to students in many ways, she said.
“The No. 1 benefit that I personally got, and a lot of girls have, is the opportunity to talk to someone who’s gone through what you’re going through,” she said. “… Particularly in engineering, just having someone to talk to who can relate to you is very helpful.”
Across the state line at the University of Idaho, Alyssa Ertel, president of the UI’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, is halfway through her chemical engineering degree thanks to her own inspiration and encouragement while in high school.