None of my closest friends are going into the STEM fields. Not a single one. Instead, we are all pursuing things like advertising, women’s studies, theater, and music. Honestly, I’m pretty torn about how that makes me feel.
This subject came to mind earlier today as I was reading an article about high paying, low stress jobs. The Occupational Information Network came out with a list of jobs in which the professionals were experiencing below average stress levels. When you look through the list, you’ll find that most of the higher paying jobs that also come with low stress are in STEM.
After reading this, I thought about my career of choice, advertising, and my general temperament. I kind of enjoy stress. I like being busy and dipping my hands in multiple projects at once. I like it when no two days of the week are the same, and pulling an all-nighter to work on a creative project is a guilty pleasure. Most of my female friends operate in the same mindset.
Our choices to go into non-STEM fields that will likely result in working way past 5 pm on the regular does not seem like a coincidence. As young girls, we grew up being told that building things was for boys and communicating/socializing was for girls. As we grew older, we were told that computer club was for boys and chorus was for girls. It’s no wonder that our choices in college majors panned out the way they did. Chances are, at some point the all-nighters will get old. We’ll tire of pumping our bodies with caffeine and working on weekends for a less than 6 figure salary. We might even grow to envy some of our male friends who are clocking out at a reasonable hour in silicon valley.
Part of me feels disappointed that none of my female friends chose STEM careers because it reminds me that we are part of a depressing statistic. All of my friends are feminists, and we spend plenty of time lamenting the lack of women in engineering or math, but none of us are changing that picture ourselves. On the one hand, I feel hypocritical, but on the other hand, I’m studying what I love — and I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Does that mean that one day, I’ll be making less than my male friends from college and also be twice as stressed? Maybe.
Of course, women who are going into the STEM field face a whole other set of challenges. A career as a computer hardware engineer may be lucrative and low-stress overall, but women in the field can face less welcoming environments that lead to anxiety, depression, and general frustration. Many women in STEM careers report experiencing a micro-aggression, receiving negative reactions from peers and family members for choosing a traditionally masculine field, or feeling excluded by the culture in their workplace. Surely this is not true for every woman in STEM, but it seems to be a common thread among many of the young women I have spoken to who are currently pursuing a degree in these fields.
As a young woman who isn’t pursuing a degree in STEM, I feel all I can do is learn from the awesome women who are . This is why I carefully follow women like Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of the Stemettes. I love the degree I’ve chosen and I don’t intend on changing my career path, but I also feel it is my duty to think critically about why I chose a career in a rapidly feminizing field. I also feel it is my duty to make sure my children know that they can choose any field they want — and hopefully not feel any guilt related to their choice whether it’s in STEM or something else. I know what I’m getting into by choosing a career in advertising. It means I’m not going to get offered a 65k per year job right out of college and it means I’m going to experience a little more stress. Right now, I wouldn’t change it for the world — but I also might start learning how to code, simply for the sake of exploration.