STEM is a curriculum that educates students in four academic disciplines- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The disciplines covered in STEM play a key role in the sustainable growth and stability of economies, and STEM innovators are essential to take on the digital future.
Areas related to STEM have statistically and historically been deemed a boys-only club. According to UNESCO, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women, and only 30% of female students choose STEM-related fields in higher education.
Reasons Why a Significant Percentage of Gender Disparity Exist in STEM Fields
- Socially appointed gender stereotypes/ gender expectations of what is regarded as a “woman’s work”
- Discrminiation & hostility towards women in the male-majoirty workplaces
- Not being taken seriously and contributions made by women constantly been overlooked and ignored
- Isolation at work due to lack of female peers, mentors and role models
- The pay gap that forces women to take up lower paying positions than their male counterparts in STEM fields
However, we are now seeing more and more women, unapologetically swimming against the tides of long standing biases and gender stereotypes, towards a more gender inclusive workforce in these previously male-dominated fields.
A Few Inspiring Malaysian Women in STEM Careers
1. Dr Lam Shu Jie
Dr Lam received international recognition for her discovery of a solution to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly known as “superbugs” when she was only 25 years old. She was presented with the Outstanding Malaysian Chinese Award for her achievements in 2017.
Dr Lam took her SPMs in Malaysia, before flying to Melbourne where she pursued her foundation and her Degree in Chemical Engineering. She later went on to obtain a PhD in Chemical Engineering as well.
But Dr Lam’s continuous efforts could help find the solution to one of the most concerning health issues that befall humanity- the rise of superbugs.
2. Tan Hooi Ling
Tan is a Malaysian “Internet Entrepreneur”, best known for co-founding the ride-hailing app Grab. Tan obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at University of Bath, and later an MBA at Harvard University.
Tan and Grab co-founder Anthony Tan were inspired to create a safe app that would address concerns faced by female taxi passengers in Malaysia. In 2012, Grab was launched, known as MyTeksi back then. Fast forward to today, Grab now provides services such as food delivery, grocery and parcel delivery, digital payment services, and many more, apart from transportation services.
As of 2019, Grab is worth over $2.3 billion, and offers its services in 8 countries, 351 cities and metropolitan areas.
3. Rupa Shanmugam
Shanmugam did not let the fact that she was the only woman in school and later in the workplace slow her down when it came to chasing her career goals. She studied Electrical Engineering In Malaysia and worked for several Malaysian and Singaporean companies.
Today, she has established herself as a trailblazer for women in manufacturing, spearheading SoPark, a US based technology company. She is the president, the CEO and the majority owner of the 81-employee company.
Shanmugan also takes the time to commit to women’s issues and is an advocate for young women following her path into manufacturing careers.
4. Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman
Dr Othman became the first Malaysian to ever earn the title of Astrophysicist. During a period of time where Malaysia lacked developments in the fields of astrophysics and space explorations, Dr Othman stepped in to pioneer Malaysia’s participation in space exploration. She led Malaysia’s Angkasawan project that sent the country’s first astronaut to space.
Apart from that, Dr Othman helped develop Malaysia’s National Universities curriculum in astrophysics, and put substantial effort to build and promote public awareness and understanding of astronomy and space related issues.
She was the director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs from 2007 to 2014. Dr Othman achieved notable firsts in her field and for her country, and has earned several honors and awards for her brilliance.
Reasons Why We Need More Girls & Women in STEM Fields
- Women bring in new and fresh perspectives that increases business fluidity
- Women bring in new talent and new creativity which increases bottom lines
- Contributes to women’s social and financial standings within communities
- Act as role models/ mentors that inspire a new generation of girls to challenge gender norms
How Do We Empower & Encourage Girls & Women to Take Up Roles in STEM Fields?
Encouraging girls to pursue their education in STEM fields is perhaps the most sustainable way to diversify the workforce. However, it will be a while before the impact of education reflects in the workforce.
As for the immediate future, companies should evaluate their staff demographics, see the disparity that exists within their workforce and allow and encourage more women to apply. If there are staff members who wish to make the move to STEM related positions, they should be encouraged to do so as well.
Strong, driven females are making their presence known, and holding their ground to bridge the gender disparity, but the pace is still extremely slow. To speed up the process, multiple institutions are offering scholarships, financial aid and support services to encourage women to take up careers in male-dominated fields.
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