For some time now, women make up for more than 50% of students in higher education. In fact, the latest data of the INE (National Institute of Statistics of Spain) show that nearly 56% of the students that signed up for bacherlor’s and master’s degrees in 2019-2020 were women.
In some degrees, that figure is much larger. That is the case of the degrees of the healthcare field, where 70% of the students are women. However, and despite of these numbers and the many accomplishments achieved, women’s representation in many fields continues to be anecdotal or much below men’s representation. This is what happens in STEM careers. According to the data by the Ministry for Universities, in 2019-2020, 24% of the students that signed up for bachelor’s degrees chose a STEM discipline, and only 7.7% of them were women.
But, what is the true situation of STEM careers in Spain? Why is there still such a gender gap in these disciplines? What measures can we take to change this situation? In last February’s iFriday we tried to answer these questions to raise awareness on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8th) and pay a small tribute to International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11th).
On the one hand, Susana González, Business economics professor and Director of the Women and STEM research line of the Cátedra Mutua Madrileña CEU San Pablo.
Secondly, Yolanda González, Professor and researcher from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería ICAI de Comillas and Director of the department for the promotion of women in STEM education and training in sustainable transport of the Universidad Pontificia Comillas.
And in the third place, we also had the luck of having with us a woman representing the vocation of Engineering among women university students: Celia San Millán, a 3rd year student from the Degree in Telecommunications Engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
How to overcome stereotypes
Thanks to Susana, we learned how gender stereotypes are cause for bias and influence the gender gap in STEM. “We need to broaden the academic horizons of girls. The truth is that bias exists, all of us have biases”, Susana said. “From as early as 6 years old, girls internalize that boys are brilliant, not them. Girls tend to underestimate their abilities, especially in math-related fields, while boys tend to overvalue them”, she added.
Yolanda, on her end, shared with all Sacyrians the conclusions of a study her department at ICAI. “It is a social need to make more students interested in STEM degrees, because it affects our country’s economic development”, she pointed out, “Moreover, the employment rate and salaries are higher for men than women with STEM degrees”.
To conclude the meeting, we talked with Celia about where her vocation for STEM careers came from, and how important family support is to arouse curiosity about these topics. “I chose to study Telecommunications Engineering because ever since I was little, I enjoy science, mathematics, technology, computers”, said Celia, “My father also explained to me how many things work, like engines or dams”.