Throughout history, women have been systematically underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. We all know that girls and women are just as qualified as their male counterparts to study these subjects. So where does the STEM gender gap come from?
- Male-Dominated Field: STEM has been a male-centric field since its inception, and continues to be vastly populated by men to this day. Women who choose to pursue a STEM education can expect to enter a classroom full of primarily male colleagues. This can be a barrier to interest in the field at all.
- Assumptions & Stereotypes: Girls and women are often met with assumptions and gender-based stereotypes throughout their education and career. Parents, guardians, and peers often push young girls away from STEM fields toward more female-dominated aspirations. These stereotypes can influence the interests of talented girls and women and can lead them to underestimate their capabilities in STEM subjects.
These are only a couple of the many factors that contribute to the continued prevalence of the STEM gender gap. It’s important to combat this gap, which continues to prevent women from pursuing lucrative careers in STEM. We can do this by working against gender biases and stereotypes, and empowering girls and women to pursue the possibility of an education or career in STEM.
One way to influence today’s generation of women is by learning about the inspiring women in STEM who came before them. Read along to discover the impressive accomplishments of some of the world’s most renowned female scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and researchers. To share these women and more, access our free resources highlighting women in STEM.
1. Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Possibly the most well-known name on this list, Marie Curie was the first woman ever to receive a Nobel Prize. She received two Nobel Prizes during her lifetime, one in physics and one in chemistry.
Born in Poland but spending most of her professional life in France, Marie discovered two elements: polonium and radium. She researched radioactivity and pioneered new technology to ease the suffering of French soldiers during World War 1.
Although we know and celebrate Marie Curie’s many accomplishments to this day, her path as a woman in STEM was littered with gender-based obstacles. Notably, she almost didn’t receive her first Nobel Prize — the committee initially awarded it only to her male research partners.
2. Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)
Best known as being one of the first Black women to work for NASA, Katherine Johnson is known for her incredible mathematical accomplishments in aeronautical fields. She calculated the trajectory for many of NASA’s most infamous flights to space.
Although Katherine was incremental in the success of some of the world’s greatest space discoveries, her work was unnoticed by the general public in comparison to the male-dominated coverage of NASA projects.
She was honored for some of her work much later in life and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
3. Tu Youyou (1930-present)
Tu Youyou was the first Chinese woman to win the Nobel Prize, which she was awarded for her research into physiology and medicine in 2015. She is best known for discovering a traditional cure for malaria and has saved millions of lives to date with this achievement.
Although Tu had to take a two-year break from education when she contracted tuberculosis, she did not allow this setback to discourage her and continued to pursue medicine to her fullest ability.
Her contributions to the field of medicine continue to save lives to this day, and her legacy will not be forgotten.
4. Jane C. Wright (1919-2013)
Hailed as the “godmother of chemotherapy,” Jane C. Wright is known for her groundbreaking research into cancer treatments.
She revolutionized cancer research by developing new techniques to test the effects of a wide range of drugs on cancer cells. Jane also pioneered the use of methotrexate, establishing it as a viable treatment for breast and skin cancer.
Despite facing gender and race barriers as a Black woman in STEM, Jane’s research lives on today as a life-changing contribution to modern medicine.
4. Lydia Villa-Komaroff (1947-present)
Lydia Villa-Komaroff is a molecular and cellular biologist who is best known for her work in insulin research. She played a pivotal role in the discovery that bacteria can be used to produce insulin, which helped to develop the biotechnology industry.
She also made unmatched advancements in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease, transforming the lives of thousands of individuals with her research. As the third Mexican-American woman to ever receive a doctorate of sciences, Lydia Villa-Komaroff was bold enough to defy racial and gender stereotypes throughout her education and career. Thanks to this, the fields of medical science and biology remain forever changed by her contributions.
5. Dr. Ellen Ochoa (1958-present)
Dr. Ellen Ochoa’s list of accomplishments is wide and varied, but she is most commonly recognized as being the first Hispanic woman to go to space. She has now flown into space four times and has logged up to 1,000 hours in orbit.
She got her start with a Bachelor’s degree in physics, followed by a Master’s degree and a doctorate in electrical engineering.
Engineering is statistically the most male-dominated field in all of STEM, and Dr. Ellen Ochoa’s rise to the top is absolute proof that this gender gap has no place in society.
Let these Famous Women In STEM Inspire You
Hopefully, you’ve been inspired by the impressive true stories of these women in STEM. All these women stood against the gender gap in STEM and are remembered for their advancements in modern science and mathematics.
We can honor these women’s legacies by continuing to share their stories and contributions, and by fighting to dismantle the gender stereotypes that today’s generation of bright young minds faces to this day.
To garner interest in STEM at a young age, consider starting a STEM summer camp or after-school club, or expanding STEM programs at your school. These experiences can help young students — especially girls — gain experiences and open their eyes to future possibilities.
SAM Labs can help you get started with a comprehensive and easy-to-use STEM curriculum. Get started today!
Shaunda Douglas is a former educator with over 15 years of experience in all levels of education. In her free time, she reads, plays with her dogs, watches baseball, and loves a good nap.