Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
By Julia Tartaglia, Co-Founder, www.scientistafoundation.com
The Leaky Millennial STEM Pipeline
By now, the topic of "why so few women in STEM?" has been talked about to near exhaustion. We all know the problem: Women make up only 25% of the STEM workforce. This means that half of our talent, diversity and (wo)manpower is missing. This is not only a disservice to our country, which is losing half of its brain power, but to our women, who are missing out on some of the most rewarding and highest paying jobs in the nation.
Why are women leaving STEM? I say "leaving" because up until high school, women are still in the symbolic "stem pipeline." In fact, female high school students take more credits in STEM courses than their male counterparts and are even outperforming them. Yet, somewhere along our educational track, as early as high school, or as late as graduate school, we lose our way. Women are deciding that they aren't a good fit for STEM.
"STEMinism" - Competing ideologies
Being a "Gen-Y" college woman majoring in biology at Harvard in 2007 during the post-Larry-Summers aftermath, I found myself right in the middle of a confusing time. There was a renewed energy around what it meant to be a feminist in science, yet there was obvious tension between the ideologies of competing generations. In the generation of women above me, a handful of prominent second wave feminists were receiving media attention for speaking out against gender discrimination in the sciences. I met my personal hero and vocal feminist, former MIT Professor Nancy Hopkins -- famous for publicly walking out during Summers' remark -- who spearheaded a study about the discrimination of women at MIT. However, many other brilliant female trailblazers got ahead by keeping their heads down and not discussing their gender. Take Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, who describes herself as "not really a feminist" stating, "And I think it's too bad, but I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word."
Yet, I noticed a rebirth of the term "feminism" among my own college peers. Not having faced the overt discrimination of those who came before us, we millennial women do not believe sexism is affecting us personally. We join women's organizations not out of a perceived necessity, but to make friends. Yet at some point or another, we all begin to realize that we are still battling gender issues and more discreet forms of discrimination. We find a lot of people trying to define us--telling us why we are going to drop out of the science track, or why we must not like science.
What Gen Y Scientistas Really Want
So, what do we Gen Y Scientistas really want?
We want people to stop telling us that we aren't innately interested in science. We tire of the benevolent sexism we receive, like being told that it's "cool" that we wear dresses and make-up, as if femininity and science must contradict each other at some fundamental level. We want to be able to do research not in isolation, but in collaboration. We want to be able to form study groups in our male dominated classes without being left out for not being "one of the guys." We do not want to be asked last for our answers because subconsciously others think we probably aren't as good. Since starting Scientista, I've heard male peers tell me that female coders are either "amazing" or "really suck." These types of labels and implicit biases that exist even among our own generation are harmful to women who are more likely to doubt their own abilities and hold themselves to higher standards. And if we do find ourselves in these situations, we want communities where we can talk about these issues. Gen Y women really do want it all, and we want to know that there are women in the field who are able to have careers in STEM and families.
Scientista - A New Movement
So, how can we give millennial women in science what they want? I co-founded the Scientista Foundation with my sister, Christina, to make a one-stop resource that would give pre-professional women in STEM the community, advice, and role models they need to stay motivated and on track. Yet, the Scientista Foundation is more than that - it is a new movement that redefines what it means to be a scientist, what it means to be a woman in science. There is a new movement among Gen Y Scientistas - a movement for a new science and engineering culture. We are Scientistas - we're proud of who we are, we are empowered, and we are ready to change the world.
Julia Tartaglia is a co-founder of The Scientista Foundation. She graduated from Harvard College in 2011 Cum Laude with a BA in Human Evolutionary Biology and an honors track in Mind, Brain and Behavior. Passionate about all that is related to the brain and the evolution of human behavior, Julia spent her four years at Harvard conducting research in the Stickgold Lab Center for Sleep and Cognition.