Game Changer: Women in STEM
It’s International Women’s Day and a good time to celebrate that we have entered a new Women’s Era. Whether it’s the #MeToo Movement or record numbers of women elected to Congress, taking our proper place in society is long overdue on many dimensions. Not only do we need more women in positions of power for the sake of equality and fair play, but more importantly, to rectify the striking imbalances in our society. Speaking in energy language, we could say that the yang, having reached its climax, is retreating in favor of the yin. If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s easy to see that our evolution as a species has become pretty lopsided, and has reached an alarming stage. We have all the signs of an emotional meltdown. Mental illness is pervasive in our society and has been on the rise for the past two decades. We are suffering from an opioid crisis, an epidemic of suicide and a culture that is becoming accustomed to school shootings, police shootings and gun violence. Well known author of Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell observed: Where male power dominates, You have separation. Where female power dominates, There’s a non-dual, embracing quality. Gender based science has shown what Campbell says to be true and to have legitimate scientific roots: male brains are separate, compartmentalized, female brains more holistic, integrated. Women have more connections going left and right across the corpus callosum, between the two halves of the brain. This gives them an advantage in integrating or pulling together information from different sources and drawing conclusions. The left half of the brain handles logical thinking, and the right is associated with intuition.
Men's brains compartmentalize and typically have stronger spacial recognition and motor function capabilities. Eric Neuman, the psychologist of culture, has explained that the perils we face as a society today, largely spring from a one-sided male intellectual consciousness no longer kept in balance by the female psyche.
This imbalance has been fueled by science, for centuries. It is from science that we derive our worldview, our values. Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method, thought of science as a “woman to be brought into submission and conquered as a slave.” His thinking, as well as Isaac Newton’s and René Descartes, led the way to a separatist view of the world and thinking, a command and control approach of the universe that was symbolized by a clock. We believed that if we divided something, a clock, into component parts, then studied each part, eventually we would know all there is to know about it. This reductionist kind of thinking, thinking that reduces a thing to its tiniest parts, can be seen in medicine and the way we think of the human body and also in our bureaucratic, hierarchical approaches to organizations. The reductionist approach has reaped tremendous progress for humanity: we have put men on the moon, conquered many diseases, built corporate enterprises and wealth that are the envy of the world. But that kind of thinking proved wrong: the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Further, in its extremes, this mindset, assuming the need to control, is leading us down an isolated, fear driven path. If your ultimate aim is control, you will always be in fear of not having it.
But ironically, yang is retreating, giving way to yin. Reductionist science itself is leading the retreat, ushering in a new worldview that looks more like a labyrinth than a clock: everything really is interconnected. As scientists studied the parts of the universe, beyond the atom they discovered smaller and smaller parts, and a new quantum science emerged to show a more interconnected, “feminine” world. The new physics tells us that an observer cannot observe without altering what he sees. What we see out there, apparently depends, in a rigorous mathematical sense, as well as a philosophic one, upon what we see inside, or what we expect to see. They are not separate things.
Attracting more women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, (STEM), would begin to advance the new labyrinth worldview, aligning the new science with women’s thought processes, and leave the narrow clockwork universe to where it’s most appropriate. From this perspective, women in STEM could maximize innovation, creativity, and international competitiveness. Scientists are working to solve some of the most difficult challenges of our time, and design many of the things that are vital to our health and happiness.
A stunning example are the discoveries of Dr. Candace Pert, at one time head of molecular biology at the prestigious NIMH, discovered the molecules of emotion: the lynchpin between Mind Body medicine. Her key contribution: a psychosomatic network of neuropeptides and receptors, that she refers to as the molecules of emotion, translate emotions into biochemical reactions, through fluctuations of energy from our thoughts. In other words, emotions link the mind and body. Good thoughts, good hormones, bad thoughts, bad hormones.
Other female scientists, like Margaret Meade, applied integrated approaches to their research, in Meade’s case studying adolescent girls, she emphasized the vital importance of cultural context on their gender roles and development.
More women in STEM, developing scientific and technological products, services, and solutions are likely to result in greater innovation, better designed products and more disruption, bringing about badly needed paradigm changes in healthcare, education and technology, while representing all users, guided by a broader array of experiences. Girls Inc. of New York City is doing its part, delivering Moody’s Data Analytics program, a digitized, interactive program on big data, using avatars through a social justice lens, the first of its kind in the nation. We also teach girls to use robots, fly drones, build websites and media productions.
We are preparing girls in our programs to be the STEM leaders of the future. It is women’s time and we have to make it count. It’s our responsibility to encourage girls and women to pursue their dreams, especially in technology and STEM and industries considered male-dominated. Many women didn't have female role models in STEM growing up, so we need to begin to change that for future generations. At Girls Inc. of NYC, we want to give young women the tools and inspiration they need to feel empowered to realize their dreams in any field they choose, so that they have a deep and abiding feeling that they belong, and male dominated is no longer a label that has any meaning.
Happy International Women’s Day!