The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are widely deemed as an important element required to create a highly innovative and knowledge-driven society. The synergy of science and technology can act as catalysts to steer nations to greater heights, as well as realising the future national aspirations.
In order to fully capitalise on this opportunity, it is important for our country to achieve maximum labour force participation from not only men, but women as well. However, it has been reported that women are still vastly under-represented in the STEM fields in many parts of the world, including Malaysia. Bridging the gender gap in STEM-related jobs can be facilitated by introducing initiatives to encourage and empower women to participate more actively in STEM industries.
During his Budget 2017 speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has declared that women are the backbone of the nation’s development, while also highlighting the important roles of women in STEM sectors. Therefore, the key question remains – how can we all play a role in promoting and encouraging participation in STEM equally from both genders?
This article discusses the about how we can bridge the gender gap in the local STEM field and the role of the government to facilitate this process.
Understanding the Gender Disparities in STEM Fields
The woman participation in STEM-related fields is still relatively lacking in many ASEAN nations and this problem is multi-faceted as we look deeper into it. As reported by the World Bank, women accounted for 50.78% of the total workforce participation in 2017. Despite the high rates of women enrolling in STEM-related degrees, it has been reported that the vast majority of women still preferred to pursue non-STEM related careers after graduation. This trend is indeed worrying and mainly attributed to the fact that many women believe that they’re being deprived from having equal access to opportunities as their male counterparts in STEM sectors.
This disparity demonstrates the existing stereotype threat and gender discrimination from the traditionally male-dominated STEM work environment. Furthermore, many women professionals in STEM sectors have reported that they do not experience the same career prospects and advancements as their male counterparts. This gender bias further aggravates the situation in which more women will be reluctant to pursue STEM-related careers.
How Can Young Female Talents Prepare for Work in STEM?
Malaysia has been promoting STEM to women to uplift its severely skewed gender disparity. A strong participation of women in STEM is predicted to give Malaysia a competitive edge in terms of both economic and community development.
Over the years, we have seen many prominent female STEM scholars, such as Marie Curie and Angela Merkel, who have managed to transcend this social convention and went on to have successful careers. Young women should look up to successful females like them for inspiration and be confident to embark STEM-related majors and careers if it is indeed their passion. This can be further complemented by the fact that companies around the region are increasingly adopting merit-based recognition systems that do not favour any particular race, gender, or background.
Most of the anticipated jobs that are predicted to dominate the future workforce are from science and technical fields. This trend indicates that it is crucial for women, especially the younger talents, to be more open to considering to STEM-related fields to widen their future career prospects and remain relevant in the rapidly changing working landscape.
What Role Should Government Play in Encouraging STEM
The government should provide the necessary exposure to young female talents – in both primary and high schools – to cultivate their interest in STEM-related subjects from an early age. Policy makers should look at forming strategic collaborations with specific local education-focused NGOs to leverage on external expertise and knowledge required to achieve the needed grassroots outreach, especially those outside of city hubs and urban areas.
Teach for Malaysia definitely deserves recognition for their ongoing efforts to engage and educate the youth, especially those in the rural locations. As they further upscale their coverage and improve their learning approach for mathematics and science, the government should be looking to invest more financial resources and look for top professionals (if possible from the STEM industries) to provide the support required for these initiatives to derive value for the economy development.
Disclaimer: This is an Opinion Article and it only reflects the views of the author and not the company or institution that may be associated with the Author. This article also does not have any intention to undermine or attack certain individuals or parties.
Written by: Kang Wee Shuien
Wee Shuien is a Design Engineer for PERI Formwork Malaysia specialising in civil and infrastructure construction. He graduated with a first class in Bachelors Degree of Mechanical Engineering from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Prior to his graduation, he did his internship at Railway Technical Research Institute in Japan as research intern focusing on traction control and power supply system. As a young engineer, he is very interested on the future development of science and technology in ASEAN.
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