Scientistas fight the leaky pipe phenomenon

Gabrielle Woodard

A phenomenon called the “leaky pipe” describes the number of women dropping out of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Scientistas, an organization located on college campuses across the nation for women in STEM fields, is working to create awareness and support for women in the field in order to combat the leaky pipe phenomenon. The Kent State chapter of Scientistas attended the organization’s Symposium in New York City on Oct. 16-18, along with other chapters from all over the nation.

Mercy Davidson, a senior research assistant at Columbia University, spoke to the Scientistas about the issue of the leaky pipe and how it can be addressed.

“The leaks occur at all levels of transition — from undergraduate to graduate level — and continues further in the STEM job scene as well,” Davidson said.

In many cases it appears that more girls are taking math and science courses in high school compared to their male classmates. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, 37 percent of girls took pre-calculus compared to 34 percent of males.

The same trend follows with Algebra II. NGCP showed females taking the class at a rate of 78 percent and their male classmates at a rate of 74 percent.

The discrepancy in the data appeared when an equal number of males and females were taking calculus.

NGCP reported that, “the rates of science and engineering course taking for girls (and) women shift at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge.”

Davidson said she believes that there are several reasons the leaky pipe exists, including “hostile environments and uneven playing fields for women, lack of female role models and mentorship and gender stereotyping leading to perceived lack of skills.”

Leah Bruno, a junior chemistry major, said she has become frustrated with experiences being set-aside just for women.

“There are a ton of opportunities because I am female,” Bruno said. “But I also find it frustrating that these opportunities are only available because of my gender.”

Jaynell Nicholson, a junior environmental conservation biology major, said that while she is one of a few number of women in her classes, she doesn’t feel singled out.

“I personally feel very supported as a woman in science by my peers as well as all of my professors, though most of them are male, ” she said.

Davidson said she believes the leaky pipe can be mended with recognition of the existence of the leak. Further, she believes that addressing “issues of stereotyping and sexism in all forms” along with appointing qualified women in leadership roles will help to fix the leaky pipe.  

Gabrielle Woodard is the college of arts and sciences reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]