It is a misconception that women are underrepresented in science or STEM fields fields in general. The reality is that women have entered some STEM fields to the point where they are no longer underrepresented (e.g., biology) while largely forsaking other STEM fields (e.g., computer science).
Today, more women than ever major in so-called STEM fields. More than 58% of all bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates in biology are being awarded to women.Within certain University biology departments, women also make up nearly half of the faculty. And within the department of behavioral and social sciences, 70% of faculty members are women :
However, women comprise only 18% of students receiving bachelor's degrees in computer science and engineering, and those figures have actually dropped over the past couple of years :
And in spite of having an overall 2-to-1 advantage in being ranked first for the job in any STEM field, women remain underrepresented as faculty members for those fields as well. Policies to attract more girls and women into subjects such as computer science, physics and engineering have largely failed.
These trends in gender representation are consistent internationally. For example, if we look at Britain, we see that women are eg. less than 20% of all engineering and computer science undergraduates, but more than 60% of all biology undergraduates and even more than 75% of all veterinarian undergraduates :
If we look at Europe as a whole, we see that 40% of the 17 million scientists and engineers in the EU are women. However, men are particularly overrepresented in manufacturing (83% of scientists and engineers in manufacturing were male), while the services sector was much more balanced (55% male and 45% female).
Further, we see that women are in the majority in all of the EU Member States among students studying for Master’s degrees. Yet, we also see that there are considerably more female than male students studying social sciences, journalism, information, business, administration or law, with women accounting for 57.6 % of all students within this field of education :
Even if we look beyond Europe and North-America, we see a very similar gender distribution across different fields :
My girlfriend and I, both living in Belgium, are a perfect reflection this pattern as well : I work as a programmer in corporate R&D and have only male colleagues, while my girlfriend teaches bio-chemistry faculty at a local university and has mostly female colleagues.
Obviously, there still remain differences in the gender gap on a per county basis. Peculiar about these differences, however, is that women are actually less likely to enter a STEM field in countries with greater gender equality :
One possible explanation for the aforementioned gender distribution is the high "geek factor" in fields like computer science, physics and engineering. Another would be gender stereotyping transmitted through our interaction with others. However, there also biological differences to consider, like the difference between men's and women's brains.
Men may simply be more driven by a biological urge to build things, whereas women may simply be more driven by a biological urge to help people. It would be foolish to underestimate the impact of sex hormones on our individual preferences when even among monkeys males prefer to play with trucks and females with dolls!