UN Women has published an expert paper authored by Milagros Sáinz as an invited contribution to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. In the publication, entitled How to Address Stereotypes and Practices Limiting Access to STEM-Related Education for Women and Girls, the director of GenTIC analyses the complex factors that shape women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields and tackles how to overcome existing barriers to promote equal participation and opportunities in science and technology for women and girls.


Women’s participation in STEM fields is uneven in the different scientific-technological disciplines. Milagros Sáinz summarizes the state of play and highlights that, in western countries, women are underrepresented in STEM fields that have not a direct connection with the provision of care, such as engineering and computer science, whereas they are highly represented in those STEM disciplines associated with health and the provision of care. Additionally, current research has identified a paradox between levels of gender equality and the participation of women in STEM fields, showing that in more egalitarian countries, such as Norway or Finland, fewer women choose STEM studies and occupations. However, in countries where gender equality policies are less advanced better levels of female participation in STEM fields are observed. This is because, in the world’s most developed countries, individuals tend to make their occupational decisions in terms of self-expressive values of motivation and interest. On the contrary, in countries with lower rates of equality, women justify their choice of STEM studies based on its ability to grant them economic autonomy.


Different factors (environmental, social, school, and personal) shape women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields. Milagros Sáinz points at societal stereotypes about the type of person who is expected to succeed in STEM career pathways, as well as the belief that women are more competent in reading and languages and men are more competent in science and technology, which seems to be endorsed by parents and teachers. Moreover, gender bias in learning materials and the kind of classroom dynamics and teaching styles are thought to influence gender differences in students’ attainment. There is also a tendency to make the contributions of women in scientific and technological fields invisible, while the contributions of men in these areas are highlighted.


Women’s lack of participation in STEM has important implications, including the risk that technological products and services do not meet the needs of women. Milagros Sáinz suggests several key recommendations to overcome existing barriers and promote gender equality in fields related to STEM disciplines, namely, considering girls’ broader environment in STEM interventions, including boys, parents, and teachers; training teachers to actively work with students so that they can deploy positive and active coping strategies against sexist beliefs; making women’s contributions to STEM more visible in textbooks and didactic materials; emphasizing the social utility of STEM subjects and occupations, and facilitating meetings between school-age girls and women in STEM as role models with whom they can identify.


Read the Expert Paper How to Address Stereotypes and Practices Limiting Access to STEM-Related Education for Women and Girls, by Milagros Sáinz Ibáñez.


Related links:

Article in UOC News on Milagros Sáinz’s Expert Paper: Not blaming women is key to increasing their presence in tech professions.

Find all the Expert Papers of the UN Women Expert Group Meeting: Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at this link.


Photo by ThisisEngineering on Unsplash.


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