I admit it. I have no idea where most of these “official” days come from. Who determines that it is National Pancake Day or National “Apply Lip Balm” Day? I made that last one up, but it actually might exist. March 14 is Pi Day, which celebrates the mathematical constant π (pi). In 2019, many women rallied around the day as #DressForStem Day. What is that, and why is it so important?
I started noticing my female meteorologist colleagues wearing purple, so I decided to dig a bit deeper. My research led me to the National Weather Association (NWA) Twitter site. The National Weather Association, according to its website, “is a member-led, all inclusive, 501(c)6 non-profit, professional association supporting and promoting excellence in operational meteorology and related activities since 1975.” NWA along with the American Meteorological Society (AMS) are critical actors in the U.S. weather enterprise. The NWA Twitter site explained #DressForStem this way:
Several of the meteorologists on the @nwas Social Media Committee are wearing purple today to bring awareness and show support for the need for more women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. #DressForSTEM #WomenInSTEM #PiDay
The hashtag is being used to draw attention to the woeful representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical fields (STEM). Accuweather meteorologist Becky Depodwin sent a messaging explaining the choice of color,
purple was chosen as the color because it’s an international color of symbolizing women. That is what is on the International Day of Women website. Pi Day makes sense as the day to show support for women in Stem because of the ties to math and science.
Fox 5 Atlanta meteorologist Joanne Feldman told me about an effort three years ago by female broadcast meteorologists that involved wearing a certain “dress style” on Pi Day to bring awareness of women in STEM. This may be the origin of the current effort, but I do not state that with certainty.
I wrote in Forbes about four pioneering women in meteorology. In that piece, I discussed a recent article in Nature chronicling disparities for women in STEM fields. The article stated that almost 50% of U.S. female scientists leave full-time science careers after giving birth to their first child. Such a gender imbalance results in further pay inequity, underrepresentation of women in senior positions, and unfair distributions of honors or awards. Washington D.C.-based meteorologist Melissa Nord tweeted,
Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce. #DressForSTEM #PiDay
Here are some statistics shared by meteorologists or STEM professionals on Twitter on Pi Day:
- 29% of broadcast meteorologists are women but only 8% are Chief Meteorologists.
- Fewer than 3% of women entering colleague intend to major in engineering
- In 2018, only 28% of the Advanced Placement (AP) exams in Computer Science were taken by women
Many of these statistics can be found on the National Science Board and National Science foundation website at this link. This text also caught my eye on the website:
The percentage of female science and engineering (S&E) workers continues to be lowest in engineering, where women constituted 15% of the workforce in 2015….Other disproportionately male S&E occupations include physical scientists (28% women) and computer and mathematical scientists (26% women). Within computer and mathematical sciences occupations, the largest component, computer and information scientists, has a smaller proportion of women (24%) compared with the mathematical scientists component, which is closer to parity (43% women).
The data show that parity is close within the life sciences (48%). The field of social sciences actually has a majority female workforce (60%).
There have been numerous studies and opinions on why women are underrepresented in the more quantitatively rigorous STEM fields.. Reasons given include lack of mentors, an unwelcoming climate, biases in how K-12 math or science educators treat girls, family structure, and other stereotypes. For example, Eileen Pollack wrote in the New York Times
Her classmates teased her mercilessly: “You’re a girl. Girls can’t do physics.” She expected the teacher to put an end to the teasing, but he didn’t…Other women chimed in to say that their teachers were the ones who teased them the most. In one physics class, the teacher announced that the boys would be graded on the “boy curve,” while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”; when asked why, the teacher explained that he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.
This shameless stereotyping and insensitivity is apparent beyond school too. Many female meteorologist colleagues share stories of how they are referred to as “weather girl” even though they are degreed scientists. They also share stories of being harassed about their look, dress, or hair rather than their forecasts.
After she gets home from school, I am going to show my daughter the outstanding editorial in Newsweek this week by Dr. Jenni Evans, the current president of the American Meteorological Society. Professor Evans writes about the 100 years of science and service of our discipline to society. AMS is actually fairly progressive on inclusion issues but still has only had a couple of Presidents that were women. Evans is one of them, and an example to my daughter of what is possible.
Original post by:
Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dir., Atmospheric Sciences Program/GA Athletic Assoc. Distinguished Professor (Univ of Georgia), Host, Weather Channel’s Popular Podcast, Weather Geeks, 2013 AMS President
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