As my play, “Woman on the Scarlet Beast,” goes public, there’s another role my director is about to assume: becoming a mother. If the baby reads the calendar, it should arrive soon after the play ends. I’m hoping it is a well-behaved child and won’t arrive before it is scheduled. In any case, I’m wondering if my director is braced for the dramatic changes about to take place in her life. Till now, theater has consumed her. How will she cope with a new actor on stage? Beautifully, I’m sure but some of her old life’s intensity is bound to pale.
While biology isn’t destiny, motherhood is a role most of women embrace with joy — that according to research done in an effort to discover why fewer women enter studies in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). A report, published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind, shows that neither ability nor social bias lies at the heart of the deficit. (Women in Science: The Path To Progress” by Stephen J. Ceci, Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn and Wendy M. Williams, Scientific American Mind, Jan/Feb. 2015 pgs. 62-69)
One reason for the dearth in STEM studies may be that women, being more motivated than men to earn high grades, tend to avoid classes that may lower their academic standing. (Ibid pg. 65.) Also, women seem to prefer people-oriented professions. (Ibid pg. 65) Having few women role models in STEM fields may also discourage enrollment. (Ibid pg. 65) But the most significant barrier could be the competitive nature of the work. Those in STEM fields are expected to do extensive research and produce a steady stream of papers, tasks which make raising a child difficult. If forced to chose between a career and their infants, women tend to chose their family. (Ibid pg. 69)
As factors that deter women from STEM studies become better known, the disciplines may learn to accommodate women’s employment needs. Some change is already at hand, flexible hours and the ability to work at home, for example. More change is likely to follow. In the meantime, it’s important to underscore that woman don’t lag behind men in the STEM studies because they lack aptitude. They are simply making a choice.