I’m good at math; don’t pressure me to take STEM classes

Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Jenny Lu

In each of the STEM-related classes I have taken, I have noticed a lone girl sitting in the corner looking miserable. It’s not just that she is greatly outnumbered by her male counterparts; she may not have taken that class by choice at all.

An increasing number of families nationwide are encouraging their daughters to pursue a STEM career due to the prestige, money and job opportunities, according to Business Insider.

Admittedly, women are clearly underrepresented in STEM. Only seven girls take Whitman’s AP Computer Science class compared to 21 boys. This male dominance is also evident in Engineering Design and Digital, Aerospace and Civil Engineering classes at Whitman; each class has no more than six girls out of around 20 students in each class.

Pressuring girls into STEM fields may seem logical: if a girl is smart and good at math, she may do well in engineering or science, and graduates in those fields earn $15,500 more than non-STEM graduates and have lower rates of unemployment, according to Business Insider.

But in reality, pushing girls without interest into STEM fields simply doesn’t solve the underrepresentation of women in those fields. In fact, 40 percent of women with engineering degrees quit their field, according to the Harvard Business Review. While women made up around 40 percent of the computer science field in 1984, the participation rate today has dropped to below 20 percent, an NPR report found.

A girl’s affinity for math and science doesn’t necessarily equate to passion in technology careers. Even in my own computer science class, one third of the girls who began the year in my class have quit the class, telling me it was due to lack of interest in the field. Without passion for the subject, many women coaxed into STEM majors or jobs due to their talent in math or science may feel as if they have no other choice but to quit.

Indeed, women only make up 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. There is no question that there are factors that discourage girls from developing an interest in STEM, but pushing girls who don’t like STEM into the field simply because they’re good at it and would increase the low number of women in the field is counterproductive. Those women won’t enjoy their work and may quit like the girls in my computer science class.  The only thing we can do to encourage girls to pursue STEM is to provide insight to what STEM jobs entail and let them make their own decisions.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a smart girl pursuing child development or psychology careers—which happen to be female-dominated professions—if the girl’s interests lie in those fields and not technology fields.

I’m taking classes involving technology because I’m interested in it, and I’m not taking classes such as biology or philosophy for the same reason. There are girls who naturally like STEM, so let the rest make their own choices.