Investigating the Gender Gap and Bias against Female Scientists

Kyla Fung, Staff Writer


After the U.S Congress officially designated the month of March as Women’s history month in 1987, the tradition has continued to this day, celebrating various achievements women have made over the course of world history. From the startling discoveries in radioactivity and cancer treatments by Marie Curie to the collective efforts of breaking gender and race barriers by various women such as Rosa Parks, there can be no doubt some of the most astonishing and life-changing accomplishments in history were achieved by women.

However, women have certainly faced immense challenges throughout history as well, fighting against atrocious stereotypes perpetuating the belief that women are inferior to men in intelligence and physical capabilities. Though women all over the world are continuing to break down gender barriers and achieve equal rights and opportunities, the contributions of women throughout history have already changed the world tremendously – and will continue to for the many years to come.

In the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), women continue to strive to break the gender gap, as the field is still largely dominated by men.

At Minnetonka High School, a club led by Haley Andrews, Maya Silver, and Ming Ying Yeoh, all ‘21, is actively promoting and encouraging young female students to pursue careers in STEM fields. This club, appropriately titled Women in STEM, consists of biweekly meetings, some of which host female speakers in STEM disciplines. During their visits, these women share their experiences in their careers and/or in college.

Silver said her favorite thing about Women in STEM is “the opportunity to meet and speak with interesting, accomplished women who work professionally in all areas of STEM.”

From engineers to marine biologists, the Women in STEM club has hosted many exciting professionals – and Silver highlighted two of her favorite speakers as “a Food Chemist from General Mills and an FBI cyber security leader.”

As a Women in STEM student representative, Silver expressed her passion in STEM because she said “there are so many facets to explore and so many opportunities to be challenged.”

At the moment, she is most interested in Biology and Conservation.

Although biases against women in STEM have been more extreme in the past than the present, women still have severe disadvantages in pursuing STEM-related careers, including a lack of resources and education.

In fact, they often have had to work twice as hard as men to achieve what they did, only “to have credit attributed to their husbands or male colleagues,” according to Anne Lincoln, a sociologist at Southern Methodist University.

Nonetheless, that’s not to say that women have not contributed immensely to this field – some of the most transformative and innovative accomplishments have been achieved by extremely intelligent and determined women. With that being said, let’s take a look at a few (out of many) monumental female figures in the STEM field that have been disassociated from their accomplishments due to gender bias:


Nettie Stevens (1861-1912):

Stevens’ astonishing investigations led to the discovery of the X and Y chromosomes, which determine one’s sex. This discovery contributed significantly to the science of heredity. Although this was an incredible breakthrough, many scientists did not believe her just because she was a woman – a phenomenon known as the Matilda Effect – denial of a woman’s achievements due to sexist beliefs. Her discovery is often credited to Thomas Hunt Morgan, who decided to attribute the discovery to himself in his own textbook.


Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997):

During World War II, Wu joined the Manhattan project at Columbia University – a secret project involving the development of the atomic bomb. Wu teamed up with two other physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, to disprove the law of parity (which stated that two physical systems, like mirror images, behave symmetrically). Wu’s own experiments resulted in the disprovement of this law which had previously been accepted for 30 years. This incredible feat was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1957 – but was only attributed to Yang and Lee, her two male team members, even though it would not have been possible without Wu’s contribution.


Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-present ):

While still a graduate student at Cambridge University in England, Burnell discovered pulsars (remnants of supernovas) that proved that when ginormous stars exploded, they left behind tiny, dense, rotating stars. This discovery won a Nobel Prize in 1974 in physics – but was attributed to Burnell’s male supervisors, Anthony Hewish and Martin Ryle.


Although these are just a few examples out of many, women continue to struggle against sexism to this day.

Silver said, “It is vital to increase the amount of women in STEM, and this starts with education. Encouragement and advocacy for young girls are key to promote success in and pursuit of STEM fields.”