Women smash the STEM stereotype

Tan Weiyun
Engineers attending a recent convention in Shanghai prove "The Big Bang Theory" wrong in its characterization of female scientists.
Tan Weiyun

Badly dressed, blunt and boring is often the way people view women in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Just like female neurobiologist Dr Amy Farrah Fowler in American sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” STEM women are portrayed as intelligent yet deliberately masculine, not interested in human interaction and social contacts.

However, this stereotype was smashed to pieces when dozens of women attended the recent “Ladies Who Tech” annual convention in Shanghai.

Aspiring STEM women not only learned from seasoned professionals, but were also able to network, discover new opportunities and build awareness about the importance of gender diversity in STEM industries.

They were, contrary to the typified, one-dimensional depiction, fun and charismatic.

A seasoned traveler who has visited more than 50 countries and regions and a certified rescue diver who has logged more than 200 dives, Jennifer Goforth doesn’t look anything like an engineer.

“Yeah, I know people have stereotypes of STEM women — nerdy with a cold personality,” she laughed. “Break the stereotypes.”

Women smash the STEM stereotype
Ti Gong

Jennifer Goforth is responsible for developing electric vehicles at General Motors for the Chinese market. 

With decades of experience in the car industry, Goforth is chief engineer of General Motors' next-generation electric vehicles, responsible for vehicles developed for the Chinese market.

“I believe an important way to achieve gender equality in STEM fields is by being a visible female STEM leader, by showing young girls there are female engineers and by mentoring young female professionals,” Goforth said.

When she came to the world of STEM more than 20 years ago, there were not a lot of women. When she interviewed for an internship, the hiring manager said: “We just can’t see a woman fitting into this.”

“I was dumbfounded at the time, because I never thought about that before,” she recalled. 

From there she took an opportunity with GM. Two decades later, the world is totally changing.

“More women are involved in the industry and they are doing a great job,” Goforth said. 

What has impressed her in China is the number of female engineers at all levels. “I’m happy to share my experiences with other female STEM professionals, and connect to, support and inspire them,” she said.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, on average the largest gender disparity is in political empowerment, which maintains a gap of 77.1 percent. The economic participation and opportunity gap is the second-largest at 41.9 percent, while the educational attainment gap and the health and survival gap are significantly lower at 4.4 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively.

In China, the average progress on gender parity in education is relatively more advanced than in other aspects. Its higher education enrollment rates rank No. 1 in the world, with women’s 56.2 percent over man’s 46.4 percent. 

At the same time, the rates of professional and technical workers also top the list, with women at 51.7 percent and men at 48.3 percent.

Women smash the STEM stereotype
Ti Gong

Yin Kuiying (left) is chief of Link Sense Lab at Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology.

“When coming to a professional field, gender is never an issue if one is working hard and well enough,” said Yin Kuiying, chief of Link Sense Lab at Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology.

The scientist and her female colleagues are working on an electric arm project. Controlled by brain waves, the arm and hand, including fingers, can function like real ones to a great extent, making life easier for disabled people. The project has reached the testing stage, with the first batch of volunteers able to pick up and hold delicate things such as eggs and glass by just “thinking in the mind.”

Yin is seldom aware of gender disparity until one day her little daughter pointed to a children’s book and asked: “Why are these scientists, celebrities and politicians all men?”

“That question got me, and I started to think about it seriously,” Yin said. "It was probably because in old times when many jobs required manual labor, woman stayed at home to take care of the family. But now, thanks to technological development and more education opportunities, things have changed, and gender disparity is greatly reduced. And I think it'll be surely better in future."

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