28 May Blocked Out of Blockchain: Barriers to female achievement
By Katie Bowden, Global Women in Blockchain Associate
The glass ceiling for women was first put into words by an academic article published in 1986 (Morrison), but in reality stretches back centuries. Female infanticide, primogeniture, and the inclination to believe less in the faculties of women have all contributed to the arc of history and the current mismatch between female graduates and the balance of genders in STEM careers. So when something like Bitcoin erupts, and the once-in-a-lifetime chance comes to turn an ‘Average Joe’ into a millionaire, those Joes are usually men. Because according to most surveys, “95 percent of blockchain enthusiasts and crypto investors are male” (ScienceFriday).
There are the women who step out at the beginning, after seeing all the sexual harassment and assault cases coming out of STEM fields and deciding, “this job is not designed for me” (Leboy). But there are those who persist despite stereotype threats, the centuries-long exclusivity of certain fields, and a scarcity of role models. Their challenges are sometimes less insidious. One barrier could be a simple lack of information about how to get into a STEM career. One international summer school provider states pointedly that, “Yes, the information is usually available if you seek it out, but that’s not much use if nothing has ever prompted you to look for it in the first place” (Oxford Royale Academy). Having been inculcated with a disbelief in their abilities, sometimes women don’t realize the avenues that are finally open to them. Upon exiting the pipeline, women represent only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce, while men represent the other 72 percent (NGCP).
Women’s inability to view themselves in a certain role is reciprocally driven by this lack of role models. Repeated exposure to role models is an important strategy, as attested to by Donna Milgram, who has spoken since the early nineties on strategies to help bring more women into STEM fields and U.S. government programs in general. Milgram has been conducting a specific exercise for over 17 years, and states, “Wherever I am […] the messages sent to women and girls are at best mixed and at worst overwhelmingly negative, as in “This is not a career for you.” In light of this, it’s no surprise that educators need to repeatedly send a corrective, strong, positive message to women and girls: Yes, You Can!” (Milgram).
But while more women are needed, it’s important not to scare them away unnecessarily. Sometimes STEM recruitment efforts themselves backfire. One study from Georgetown University discovered that “while men may not have a natural ability advantage in STEM fields, the numerous government and other policy initiatives designed to get women interested in STEM fields may have the unintended effect of signaling to women an inherent lack of fit” (Kugler). Their abilities are matched, but excessive marketing can twist the message into a more desperate ‘make it if you can, for all of us.’ Keeping the middle ground between anxious pressure and a positive call to action is important. Doing so keeps the focus more on adding to the talent pool, and not seeking wildly out of a sense of desperation.
The meme posted in my seventh-grade Algebra class, stating: A blonde’s answer to “Find x” with the letter x circled in black, didn’t seem to have much effect on me. I pointed it out as a joke to another blonde in the class, then proceeded to get my A minus. However, events such as these are important to mitigate when derogatory jokes are compounded by factors such as low socioeconomic status, failing school systems, and unsupportive or turbulent home environments. What can be shrugged off by one can be internalized by another, and cause a pivot from Algebra II into a less challenging exploratory. The less obstacles stacked against women early in life, the easier it will be for those considering STEM fields to overcome bigger challenges during their careers.
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Morrison, Ann M., et al. Breaking The Glass Ceiling. Perseus Publishing, 1992.
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