Google hasn’t had a great week. Once again, evidence of trouble in Silicon Valley was on display as an engineer at the tech firm distributed a long memo positing possible explanations for the dearth of women in tech fields, specifically at Google. Although the memo called for more diversity, in many cases the explanations for the disparity seen in tech were based on possible gender differences, such as more neuroticism, that seemed to enforce negative stereotypes. The response was near universal condemnation and, in fact, led to the engineer’s termination as a Google employee.
How do these events impact us here at the university, especially in STEM fields? As is clearly evident, we here at MSU are concerned about the low numbers of women in certain fields, such as engineering, physics and computer science. We have talked about it on this show and we are trying to address it when possible. On the flip side, we have seen over the last two decades a tremendous shift in the gender balance within the university system. Nationwide, approximately 60% of university students are now women. So, clearly the environment in the K-12 system has somehow brought about a level of “fairness” in college demographics that most applaud. Women are seeking out scholastic opportunities and are well ahead when it comes to general college success. Except, for some reason, in just a few fields, almost all in STEM. No one really has a solution to this problem because no one really understands why it exists. The suggested causes range from deep cultural attitudes to negative environments at the university itself but, as someone who has worked on this for a few decades, I know that very few women come to the university even thinking about majoring in these fields. So, a problem exists but no one knows how to solve it and no one really wants to suggest any reasons for it that do not fit the “correct and prevailing” mindset. Within this sort of environment, it is not clear what can really be done that will have long-term positive results.