The gender gap in different fields of work has existed for years, but Ohio University student Ally Perkins can attest that the greatest example lives within the STEM field.
“The gender gap is completely unreasonable,” Perkins, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, said. “More women are capable of entering a STEM career but are bogged down by stereotypes and stigmas that tell them they can’t just because they’re women.”
The Nelsonville Public Library knew there weren’t many programs for younger women in STEM, so its staff decided to team up with the national organization Girls Who Code to host a monthly club for girls from third through fifth grade to teach them how to code. Not only is the library trying to provide an opportunity for practice for young women in STEM, but they also hope to directly address the gender gap in STEM and specifically computer science.
Becca Lachman, communications officer for the Athens County Public Libraries, is excited to see the event come to fruition Jan. 30.
“Girls Who Code has been wanting to bring the group to Southeast Ohio for a while, and it’s especially exciting that the first meeting for that project is taking place in a library,” Lachman said. “A library’s main goal is to give out information, so when we saw the need for younger girls in the STEM field, we wanted to take on the task. One parent is even driving their child from West Virginia for the program, so you can see its importance.”
Girls Who Code is making its trial run with the Nelsonville Public Library, and if all goes well, the Athens County Public Libraries will spread it out to the other library branches.
Though the gender gap doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, Perkins is hopeful that with every generation, it will begin to close a little more. She believes opportunities like Girls Who Code are the perfect way to start putting that plan into action.
“It’s an awesome idea,” Perkins said. “It’s definitely going to get more young girls interested in the career, and by starting to implant STEM careers into their minds earlier on, it could help to officially close the gender gap between women and men in STEM fields.”
Perkins grew up in a family of STEM-oriented people who always encouraged her to pursue the field. High school solidified her STEM career, and she has always been confident about it, even though the field is dominated by men.
“It’s obviously not ever fun to be a minority in any career path because you’re frequently looked down on,” Perkins said. “In some cases it can be rewarding, such as job opportunities. Overall, though, that doesn’t diminish the fact that I’m being treated differently because of my gender.”
Ashley Weitzel, a senior studying chemical engineering, always knew she wanted to do something in the STEM field but wasn’t sure what that was until her second semester at OU when she got involved in chemical engineering. Along with chemical engineering came her involvement in the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE), a group of which she is now the president. Initially, she felt like a minority in the field and believed SWE would be a great resource to help her get acclimated.
“I feel that with men dominating most of the field, we need to grow together as a community of women and help each other out, so we aren’t put in a situation where we don’t feel that we belong,” Weitzel said. “And when we say our opinions, we know someone is listening.”
Both Perkins and Weitzel feel OU offers great resources for women in STEM and that professors and groups are always looking for ways to support women in the field. However, the resources offered at OU are geared toward the university women only, so Perkins and Weitzel agree that outside resources focusing on helping women before their college careers like Girls Who Code will be the most beneficial.
“It’s different for kids growing up,” Weitzel said. “They can be so inside of their minds and in their imagination that no girl or guy is going to disturb that passive creativity, but as you get older, you have a sense of outward forces and can feel unwelcome in certain spaces. It’s because of this that opportunities like Girls Who Code are so important, and I hope it grows.”
Illustration by Taylor Johnston.