Why a Women in STEM Club is Needed at Holderness

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These are the components of the STEM field today. With only 15% of women in engineering jobs, and 25% in computer science careers it is becoming more and more clear that a push needs to be made to bring more women into STEM fields. To help bring about this change, a Women in STEM club was started last year by Hannah Fernandes’17. The responses to this club were mixed. All the girls who came to the meetings loved them and felt empowered to be more outgoing in their classes. However, there were many people who were offended by the club and thought it was an attack against males who liked science and math. Most believed it was pointless because Holderness is an equally inclusive school, but women in STEM classes disagreed.


A survey was sent to a dozen girls in the STEM Club. They were asked to give their thoughts on why the club, The STEMinists, was necessary. “Holderness needs a space where young women can foster a passion for STEM fields without judgment from their peers” says Kai Parlett ‘20. There are many stereotypes around the careers that are supposedly appropriate for women to pursue. Being called out in class is a daily occurrence for girls who show an interest in subjects that are male-dominated. Girls have noticed that when they answer a question right in class they are called “hardos” for putting in the effort. A “hardo,” or try hard, is someone who puts excessive effort into everything. It is generally used in a derogatory way. However, when these girls get a question wrong they are called out for it and often made fun of. Lilly Magnus ‘20 added that the STEM Club was needed “to motivate young women to make their voices heard in a male-dominated subject.” Even at Holderness, there is a male-female divide in higher-level math and science classes. Abby Wiseman ‘18 thinks we need a Women in STEM Club “because it’s a global issue. We need to provide support here so that when our girls go out into a less sheltered world they have the confidence needed to continue in STEM fields”. The women in STEM club also “raises awareness to the barriers blocking women’s progress in STEM,” according to Morgan Sisson ‘19. All of the reasons brought up by these women are valid and together they form the basis of our purpose.


Even in lower level classes, there are divides among the male and female students. Abby Vieira ‘20 noted that “boys are able to speak freely because they’re less afraid of getting answers wrong.” When girls think they are wrong they tend to mumble the answer under their breath so they don’t embarrass themselves. “I find that boys have much more confidence in math and science, even when they have no qualification to feel that way,” says Kitt Urdang ‘19.


Last year, one of the goals for the STEMinists was to help each other speak up even when we are wrong. Even though it is difficult to put yourself in these situations it is imperative that we do this because it helps us learn in the long run. Building up these young women’s confidence was one of the primary goals of the STEMinists when it started.


When we were young and had math homework, we all went to our parents for help. It was surprising to hear many girls who went to their mothers would hear things like, “I was never good at math, go ask your dad.” Of the dozen girls surveyed, only 4 said they went to their mothers for math and science help. As little girls, the person we look up to the most is often our mothers. We want to be them, and our subconscious picks up that if they aren’t good at math then maybe we aren’t either.


The final survey question was What conditions in your personal life make participating in class difficult? The answers varied from eating disorders to depression and anxiety to borderline personality disorder to identity. One of the more powerful stereotypes exhibited at Holderness is that Asian students are supposed to be good at STEM. “Asians are always ‘expected’ to know it all and be smart. No, we work hard too, we struggle too,” stated one response. Knocking down these stereotypes empower us all. Conditions like the ones mentioned by these women exist in all of our lives, whether with a loved one or inside ourselves. For women pursuing STEM careers, it is imperative that they feel confident and stable despite circumstances they cannot control.


Women in STEM helps everyone. As Charlie Croft ‘21 said, “STEM is how we shape our future. Women need to be involved in it.” Ideas we have had about how Holderness can encourage women to continue in STEM fields range from, recognition for hard work, having teachers shut down the word “hardo” and other derogatory comments, acknowledging that everyone gets answers wrong and slowing down to explain why that particular answer is wrong. Such changes are being championed by the STEMinists and will continue to empower these young women as they pursue their future careers.