If you google the phrase “women in STEM,” the first search results are links to infographics. Bright pink symbols explain how women are failing to move forward in rapidly-growing fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math.
Women hold less than twenty-five percent of STEM jobs in the United States. Only fifteen percent of female high school students consider pursuing college majors or careers in STEM.
As I entered college, I felt guilty for not wanting to pursue STEM. I felt I was missing something. Was I failing women by not forcing myself into a traditionally male-dominated field? Why didn’t anyone want to encourage me to follow my dreams? Is there no other way of challenging the status quo?
Why was I even asking myself these questions?
After years, I finally realized that I should be searching for inspiration from women in my field rather than for approval from career counselors and my peers. As a white woman studying Anthropology with the intent of going to law school, I have a host of women whose footsteps I can trace from afar: from Jane Goodall and Mary Leakey to Amal Clooney and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I also have female role models in my own life. The chair of my department, the faculty coordinator for my internship this summer, my boss from my past summer jobs, and every Anthropology professor I’ve had this year are all incredible women making amazing strides in their field. While the humanities and the law are certainly also male-dominated, I am unique in my ability to look up to strong women in my field and my life.
All girls should have the same opportunity. When girls are not able to imagine themselves as successful, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.
The lack of women to look to as role models creates a vicious cycle: girls don’t see people who look like them succeeding, which they take as a sign that they too will fail. Women exist in every field. Women are doing amazing things in every field. We just need to connect them to hopeful young girls.
This is the importance of mentorship. If girls can see women who look like them sharing their future, they are more likely to be make that future happen. Successful women are our motivation.
If we are to empower girls, we need to make sure that no one gets left behind. We need to let girls know that their interests are valid, regardless of where they lie. We need to let girls know that if they can dream it, they can be it. We need to fix the cycle of women being too scared to try for fear of failure.
I support LiveYourDream.org because it supports all education for all women. More importantly, because of LiveYourDream.org, I am inspired to use the education I do have to make sure that other women in the world are given the same opportunities.
Leana Reich is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology. She loves to explore cities, particularly by way of coffee shops and museums, and doesn’t properly understand how lucky she is to have lived at the beach her entire life. She does understand how lucky she is to have such an amazing mom as a role model and appreciates her every day.