The Lack of Women in STEM.
The Industrial Revolution was an important era in determining how the U.S has evolved economically, culturally and socially. Thanks to those early advancements in technology we are able to live easier lives today. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs are the continuation of the Industrial Revolution which helped advance society. However, even with all of our advancements the problem of too many jobs and not enough people to fill them has occurred. To solve this issue we need more women in STEM.
Before we solve the issue we must first define STEM. The National Science Foundation has stated, “Education at all levels in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—STEM—develops, preserves, and disseminates knowledge and skills that convey personal, economic, and social benefits. Higher education provides the advanced work skills needed in an increasingly knowledge-intensive, innovation-focused economy and society” (Science Foundation Arizona, 2013). STEM education helps spread knowledge and allows different skillsets to collaborate. This collaboration and diversity of ideas allows for new and interesting solutions. Which begs the question why would this be useful?
In the interest of simplicity, we will focus on the Video Game Industry to answer why STEM is important. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) stated that in 2013 the industry sold “160 million games and generated more than 21 billion in revenue” (The Entertainment Software Association, 2013). To make all these games it takes artists, software engineers, level designers, programmers which means job openings. Siwek (2015) has reported in Video Games in the 21st Century: The 2014 Report that “video game companies directly and indirectly employ more than 146,000 people in 36 states” (Siwek, 2015). Those numbers are impressive for an industry that added $6.2 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012 (Siwek, 2015). The impact of STEM in the Gaming Industry demonstrates how important STEM can be to the U.S. economy. The Gaming Industry could have a larger impact but it is essential to educate those who make games.
A programmer has a pivotal position in creating a modern video game. To be a programmer one would get a Computer Science or equivalent degree. This STEM degree would teach the student the basic fundamentals of programming and applying those fundamentals in the real world. This is important because all modern video games are made on computers and to make a game function one has to develop a program.
Art majors, while not part of STEM, are needed to make video games. In keeping with the idea of collaborative skills, STEM integrates art with technology. Artists traditionally use physical mediums such as paint brushes and colored pencils to convey their work. Thanks to computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop, one can recreate a painting in digital form. Knowing how to use similar programs is essential to creating immersive environments in video games. Without artists, game worlds would be plain geometric shapes void of character and emotion. Ultimately, STEM is about different disciplines working together to solve a problem. When making a video game programmers and artist have to work together to achieve the end product. Each position relies on the other to succeed in making a quality game. Working together is an important skill to succeed in STEM and the Video Game Industry. But why is it that there are so few women working with men to create these games?
The general perception of video games is that they are made by and for males. Which is mostly true because games have traditionally been made for and marketed towards young males. For example, look up the cover art for Super Mario World (1990) for the Super Nintendo. It depicts Mario, with a cape, on the back of Yoshi (a dinosaur) flying through the air. This type of imagery reaches out to young boys since most want to be a super hero and like dinosaurs. Thanks to similar box covers like this, most people have associated video games as kid’s toys that are not played by adults, let alone women. But reality is much different than society’s perception. In fact nearly half of gamers, 48%, are female and those who are 18 and younger make up 36% compared to the boys 17% in the same demographic (The Entertainment Software Association, 2013). Now one may think that if half the market of games are played by females that the same would be true of those who make them. According to the International Game Developers Association as of 2009 women only made up 11.5% of developers. Despite this lack luster number, things are improving because as of 2014 women made up 22% of the developers (Tassi, 2014).
Given the contrast between how many women play games and how few make them, what prevents women from entering game development? One possible hypothesis is that many young girls are not encouraged to explore their surroundings like we do with boys. Verizon came out with a commercial last year entitled Inspire Her Mind. The ad provides snapshots of events for a young girl going from a young child to adolescents. In one section she is wondering through a creek, looking at the plants, and her mother says not to get her dress dirty. In the next section she is now a bit older and they are at the beach. She is collecting shells and examining a star fish. Her father tells her that she doesn’t want to mess with the star fish and to put it down. The next scene has the girl making the solar system out of paper mache to put on the ceiling of her room. Her mother tells her that the project has gotten out of control. The following scene has her making a miniature space shuttle with an electric drill. Her father, sounding concerned tells her to be careful and hand the screw driver to her brother. The final scene has her walking down a school hallway were she notices a poster for the school science fair. Instead of taking interest in the science fair she just puts on some lip gloss and continues walking (Verizon Commercial, 2014).
This ad explains probably the biggest reason why there are so few women in STEM. Why would anyone want to be in any a particular field of work when the people around you say you shouldn’t? It appears that this concept may hold some truth because according to a Washington Post article, from 2004 to 2014 fewer women are getting STEM degrees. The article shows a graph showing that women who got engineering degrees have gone down from 20% to 19%. In computer science it has gone from 23% to 18%. Mathematics has also gone down from 45% to 42% (Rampell, 2015).
Despite some of the social barriers to get in the Video Game Industry, why should women develop video games? One obvious reason is that half the people who play games are women. From a business stand point, it would make sense to make a game that is more enjoyable for half of the entire market. Though to make a game that caters towards women one would have to hire women to make it. Who better to make a game marketed towards women then a game made by women? Having more female developers gives game studios a different perspective on how to make games. This new perspective would allow them to try new things and reach a much larger audience. By reaching a larger audience they would widen the pool of potential customers. Thus making more money, which is something every business wants to do. When the business makes more the employees make more. “In 2012 the average annual pay including: wages, salaries and employer contributions for pensions, insurance, and government social insurance was $94,747” (Siwek, 2015). If the large pay check is not enough to convince you to do STEM then maybe President Barack Obama can. On February 2013, the President said “One of the things I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population, that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to” (Women in STEM, 2014). If the leader of the free world says that it is an issue then it must have some merit. But how do we fix this problem?
For us to improve the number of women in STEM we have to start early. That means that parents and schools need to work together to help motivate young girls. That means encouraging them to explore the world around them. If they take an interest in a particular subject help them learn about it. Schools have to make the learning of math and science fun and engaging. Once we are able to get young girls interested in these fields we have a chance of improving the amount of women in the Game Industry.
STEM programs are important to the continued advancement of the United States and the world. Without these programs we would not be able to live such comfortable lives. By having more women in STEM we are able to have more diverse points of views. Having different people with different backgrounds allows for multiple ways to solve a problem. With the constant changes of the world we need people able to solve the new problems of tomorrow.
Engaging Girls in STEM. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.ngcproject.org/engaging-girls-stem
Industry Facts – The Entertainment Software Association. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.theesa.com/about-esa/industry-facts/
Rampell, C. Women falling behind in STEM bachelor’s degrees. (2015, January 27). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.ed.gov/stem
Siwek, Stephen. Video Games in the 21St Century: The 2014 Report. 1st ed. Entertainment Software Association, 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Tassi, P. Female Game Developers Have Doubled Since 2009, Men Still Dominate Industry. (2014, June 25). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com
Verizon Commercial 2014 | Inspire Her Mind – Extended | Verizon Wireless. (2014, June 2). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3cyRRAfX0
Why STEM? What is STEM? – Science Foundation Arizona. (2013, December 17). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.sfaz.org/stem-stem/
Women in STEM. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/women