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Sedona Prince Is No Anomaly. What Institutions Do to Throttle Women’s Potential in STEM and How to Reverse the Trend

If you’ve been following the NCAA basketball tournament this year, you might have heard one of the biggest stories to come out of the event was the disparity in accommodations between the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Most notably, while the men had a full weight room at their tournament site in Indianapolis, the women’s weight room only had dumbbells under 30 pounds and a few yoga mats.

The issue caught the nation’s attention after Oregon forward Sedona Prince tweeted out a video that went viral after pointing out the disparities in the men’s and women’s weight rooms. The NCAA promptly responded with a vastly upgraded weight room and better accommodations for the women’s tournament.

While the overwhelming majority of students will never play in an NCAA tournament – let alone, play college sports, Prince’s story echoes a similar experience to women looking to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Although women make up the majority of the average graduating class in the country, just 28 percent of the STEM workforce is women. Higher ed has made a concerted effort in recent years, but there are still a number of obstacles preventing women from majoring and working in STEM-related fields.

“Faculty in higher ed are predominantly male, and there is an even further discrepancy between male and female faculty representation in STEM areas,” Ivy.ai Regional Director Sharon Harrison says.

This disparity means there are fewer female mentors that can connect with students. As a result, the social dynamics in STEM majors can feel exclusive and unwelcoming to women looking to jump into the field.

Our Director of Operations, Katharine Coomer, who majored in Neuroscience shares this sentiment.

“One of the biggest deterrents to majoring in STEM is that it can sometimes feel like a ‘boys club,’” Coomer said. “Higher ed institutions need to foster a space where women can succeed and have the same opportunities as men in a STEM field.”

Yet, the last thing institutions want to do is discourage women from majoring in STEM.

Far from it.

In fact, most are trying to actively increase the number of women majoring in these fields with countless scholarships and recruitment efforts aimed at doing just that. Go to any university website and you’ll find the stock photo of women working in the science lab.

But what can institutions do to level the playing field? I polled our top female leaders to find what meaningful changes can be made to help attract women to STEM.

Increase Female Faculty Hires

Presidents need to audit their departments in STEM fields and look for opportunities to increase female hires. Increasing the number of female professors not only improves equity within academia, but also provides students with the role models they desire to help navigate various challenges of working in the STEM community.

These hires should also include researchers, who have a vested interest in studying topics related to gender equity within STEM fields. As our VP of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships Mary Frances Coryell says, “Without women researchers, women’s needs and concerns become deprioritized.”

Having women in these positions will promote and support women in STEM-related majors, which will help narrow the gap in the workforce. Female college students need to learn from role models in leadership positions, and hiring women will allow students to get the support they need.

Work Within the Community

If higher ed is truly going to impact women in STEM, it will need to make an impact in the community and reach girls at a young age. Community colleges and state universities should host events in conjunction with middle schools and high schools to let girls know they’re welcomed in STEM-related fields.

“Introducing women into STEM starts before they apply and/or arrive on campus,” Harrison said.

High school counselors should take the lead in promoting STEM when making recommendations to students so they are more comfortable making their college decision.

Ensure Recruiters are Providing Female Graduates a Fair Salary

It’s no surprise that STEM majors have no shortage of career options upon graduation. Yet, there is still a noticeable inequality in salaries between genders.

In fact, research shows that on average, female STEM graduates are making $14,000 less than men. While it’s easy to blame organizations for this disparity, institutions have some say over which companies are allowed to recruit on campus, and can be selective over whom they allow.

Before allowing a recruiter on campus, ask for gendered salary information so that you can provide accurate information to the student and ensure the employers speaking with your students are providing fair wages.

“Finding a way to help women build the career path with the appropriate salary expectations, aligned with ability, not gender would be a great place to start,” Harrison said.

Overcoming gender inequalities within higher ed is no easy task. While we don’t have the social media following of Sedona Prince or the national stage of the NCAA tournament to shine a light on those differences, those of us who care about higher education need to ensure that current and future female students are empowered to pursue any field they desire and have the resources to do so.

Over the past month, we’ve highlighted several female employees who have made a difference at Ivy.ai and we hope that you’ll join us in pushing for this change as well.

It also helps alleviate the repetitive questions that librarians sometimes deal with by providing needed resources up-front. Since many questions are seasonal or related to the timing in a semester, librarians can use analytics to find out when it’s time to change out stale content. For example, questions about extended hours during Finals time aren’t relevant at the beginning of the second semester while information about how to cite in APA format will remain evergreen.

Getting a solid grasp on trending topics allows librarians to help more students without the need to hire additional staff.

Provide support after hours

Students are notorious for studying at odd hours of the night. Naturally, this means that most of their questions are likely to happen after traditional work hours. For most librarians, this has been a point of tension for as long as libraries have been on campus.

But in today’s hybrid work environment, there is no reason to restrict support to strictly work hours. Instead of having your staff work the same shift every day, consider staggering your shifts so that there is help available whenever students need it.

Another solution is to implement a chatbot that can autonomously answer questions at all hours of the day. Implementing a bot allows your staff to rest easy during nights and weekends

Automate lower-level questions

The vast majority of questions are those that are already in an existing document or could simply be answered if students looked for it on their own. A librarian’s time is better spent answering research questions that take more nuance and consultation. They should be helping students and staff get the proof they need to strengthen their thesis and offer compelling evidence in support of their topic.

Yet for many librarians, this goal is aspirational at best. But with modern AI chatbots offering a higher value proposition to academia than ever before, librarians can provide more help where they’re needed most.

Making academic libraries convenient for students is critical to improving the overall experience. However, by embracing what analytics and chatbots have to offer, librarians can better serve more students without stressing their staff.

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