As a freshman, Ivy Wanta ’17, now a physics major and co-chair of mentoring for Undergraduate Women in Science at Yale, hoped to see more women sitting in her classes.
“It was all about visibility,” she said. “I just wanted to see other women doing science. I wanted to know they exist.”
This Saturday, students and faculty gathered in Evans Hall at the School of Management to discuss gender imbalances at the University. Throughout the day, conversations focused on the lack of women in the sciences.
According to students and faculty interviewed, a lack of female majors in STEM fields often discourages incoming women from pursuing studies in those fields.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University Deborah Walsh said Saturday afternoon, repeating a phrase echoed throughout the conference.
Since 2008, twice as many male applied math majors have graduated than female applied math majors.
This disparity seems to be paralleled throughout STEM.
According to the Office of Institutional Research, the biological and physical science majors had 217 men, but only 150 women in 2013-14. Of these 150 female students, almost half of them majored in biology. Computer science had a particularly wide gender gap, with only four female majors out of 44 computer science majors last year.
STEM disciplines are not the only departments with few female students, President of Vassar College Catharine Hill GRD ’85, who is a member of the Yale Corporation, said during Saturday’s conference. Hill explained that there is also a large gender gap in economics.
Over the past six years, 678 male economics majors have graduated from Yale, compared to only 340 female majors.
And while Yale’s gender imbalance in undergraduate majors is lower than national averages, the University has been slow to improve.
Women made up 29 percent of engineering majors in 1978, when 37 percent of Yale students were women. Today, women are equally represented on campus, but only make up 37 percent of engineering majors.
Of 10 STEM students surveyed, seven said they often consider the gender make-up of their major.
“[The gender gap] is evident in the sense that you see there are less women,” Wanta said. “I do think about it a lot.”
Major choices can have large socioeconomic consequences, Director and Research Professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education Anthony Carnevale said. Carnevale added that women tend to concentrate in majors that correlate to less lucrative careers.
Even though STEM jobs only make up 8 percent of the total workforce, Carnevale said that those positions get the vast majority of the attention because many powerful industries rely on professionals educated in STEM.
According to the White House Council on Women and Girls, women who work in STEM earn 33 percent more on average compared to their non-STEM peers.
But, according to experts and faculty interviewed, majors are not only determined by individual choice. Majors with wide gender-gaps can deter women from pursuing studies in those fields, students said.
However, Carnevale said that gender gaps at the university level are rooted in cultural phenomena that students are exposed to well before matriculating to a university.
“By the time students get to college, their values are formed.” Carnevale said. “[Colleges] are the capstone to the education system — they’re 18 years too late.”
Still, the University is attempting to increase women’s participation in STEM.
Provost Benjamin Polak, also an economics profesor, said on Saturday that increasing the number of summer research projects would encourage more women to study economics. But, he added that this process has been “way too slow.”
Other efforts to recruit more women and minorities to the sciences at Yale include the Science, Technology and Research Scholars program, which involves students in STEM research early in their college careers.
Gender disparities might also be reduced by Yale’s general effort to recruit highly qualified STEM high school seniors. As Yale’s STEM community grows, there are hopes that more women will be recruited into these majors.
Alumni interviewed agreed, saying that a gender-balanced student body attracts more women.
Both Amy Armitage SOM ’86 and Nancy Alexander ’79 SOM ’84 said that they applied to Yale’s School of Management because its student body was evenly split between men and women.
In the meantime, however, women are still underrepresented in STEM majors in Yale College.
Because of the lack of women in STEM, Wanta said she feels like she is representing all female physics students at the University.
Wanta said as a result, there is sense of guilt associated with leaving a STEM major as a woman.
“If I were to stop doing physics, or switch to the non-intensive major, I would be another statistic,” she said. “There is truth to that.”