Will the new Ghostbusters movie help address the lack of women in STEM?

07/18/2016 03:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Today's political climate is remarkably contentious. Disagreement is rapid and downright vitriolic. To be sure, Americans agree on relatively few things these days. (Conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times even thinks that we may be on the path to national ruin.)

For the most part, it seems like we can't even agree on our problems--much less the solutions. Here's one exception that improves that rule: the near-universal accord on the importance of jobs requiring degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).

Not too long ago on this site, I wrote about growing efforts to introduce tech, coding, and data to children, women, and minorities. I'm certainly aware of the issue but I'm hardly an expert. The Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) notes a troubling gender disparity with regard to STEM jobs:

As it turns out, the underrepresentation of women isn't just limited to real-world, high-tech jobs. As the following data demonstrate, Hollywood has consistently underrepresented female techies and scientists in films for years:

Sure, no one has ever said that it's Hollywood's responsibility to effect social and economic change, let alone its primary one. To borrow an oft-quoted line from Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, "It's all about bucks, kid. The rest is conversation."

Brass tacks: Many major television and movie studios are notoriously risk averse. For instance, it's a miracle that amazing and genre-busting shows such as Breaking Bad ever saw the light of day. FX is one of several networks to pass on the groundbreaking series. Against this backdrop, blockbusters and lame sequels often win out over truly original filmmaking, especially during the summer.

Fortunately, it's clear that some studio heads at least recognize the STEM problem. Perhaps they can even do something about it. Case in point: the new Ghostbusters reboot. Unlike the 1989 original, women--not men--dominate the cast. Watch the trailer yourself:

Hope for the Future

Color me an idealist, but isn't it possible that a 10-year-old girl sees Kristen Wiig zapping ghosts and suddenly takes an interest in science? And if the movie does well, will more studio heads depart from convention and make more daring, less conventional casting decisions?

I don't know the answers to these questions. Even if new movies inspire women to pursue STEM careers, the results will take a while to materialize. Change of this type takes time. Ideally, though, barriers start to break down. Walls crumble. Maybe college professors of male-dominated subjects will see greater diversity among their students. New programs arise such as Masters of Science in Analytics. On personal level, perhaps I'll start to see a greater female contingent firsthand--in my analytics and technology classes during my time teaching at Arizona State's W. P. Carey School of Business.