We asked students what it’s actually like to be a woman in STEM
‘Representation is crucial’
Plugging a HDMI wire into a laptop, curling your hair without using any tongs, calculating what everybody owes for dinner after a massive group bill— every one of these activities solicits the same joke: “Women in STEM!”. A joyous battle cry for any level of ingenuity.
This International Women’s Day, the theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. So, jokes aside, we asked two students what it’s actually like to be a woman in STEM right now and got their opinion on the Artificial Intelligence services that feel like they’re taking over the world.
‘All male lecturers felt so normal I didn’t think twice about it’
Suzanna’s an Arts and Sciences student at UCL who has a particular interest in data analytics and cognitive neuroscience.
“I think I was really reminded of how the STEM space is still dominated by men during my pharmacology module in first year,” she remembers of starting her degree. “All of the teaching staff in that module were men, and it somehow felt so normal that I didn’t think twice about it until I heard someone point it out during a lecture. After that, I kept noticing the same thing in my other STEM modules.
“I don’t know whether it’s particularly bad or good in my experience as a student,’ she adds. “But it might reflect a lack of opportunities for women and girls to pursue careers in fields that (unfortunately are considered to reflect intelligence).
There were still many female students in the STEM modules I took though,” she points out. “So, maybe this will change in the very near future!”.
Although Suzanna is optimistic, she hasn’t applied for any jobs or internships yet. “I do find it daunting to be working in field dominated by men,” she explains. “I.e. If I have to work in a research team full of men or sit in cubicles for jobs in data surrounded by men.”
Suzanna points out that STEM subjects also suffer some of the worst gender pay gaps of any professional industries. For example, women in engineering earn 11 per cent less than their counterparts.
‘AI systems will contain the biases of those who create them’
Isobel studies Data Science at Durham and is keen to highlight the importance of having diverse teams working behind technologies like Chat GPT to prevent misogyny and other prejudices creeping into AI.
“AI systems will contain the biases of those who create them,” she says. “If an engineering team is solely composed of white males, some gender/racial bias or ignorance in the final products is more likely.”
Exemplifying why women in STEM are so important, Isobel adds: “The team that made Twitter admitted that when creating the platform they didn’t anticipate the opportunity for so much online harassment – being almost exclusively male, harassment wasn’t something they experienced much.
“If there had been more women on the team to foreshadow this, perhaps better measures would have been put in place to protect against online abuse.”
Currently, research shows that almost half (42 per cent) of AI has gender bias and 85 per cent of women have received online harassment.
“I think having a variety of perspectives is so important when making such fundamental projects,” says Isobel. “Representation in tech in particular is really crucial for us to produce systems that are optimised for everyone.”
Related stories recommended by this writer:
• RANKED: The STEM subjects with the most female students
• I swapped lectures with a STEM student and, wow, you guys have it rough
• International Women’s Day is no longer about feminism, it’s about making money