I have a growing dislike for the focus on "making STEM more attractive to women," and I feel the need to have a mini-rant about it. This is not a fully formed argument. It is just some thoughts that want out of my mind and into a rant.
If what is meant by "making STEM more attractive to women" is to somehow change the fundamentals of the STEM field, I find the suggestion insulting, as if you have to add some strange extra window-dressing to the field to appeal to us silly females. This is not to say that I have a problem with identifying the ways in which engineering, for instance, helps people, but that I have a problem with the assumption that (1) this is a requirement to attract women and (2) that men will be uninterested in this information. You know what? STEM fields are pretty darn interesting on their fundamental merits, and most kids of any gender recognize this. We don't need to gussy up the fields to get the girls interested.
If what is meant by "making STEM more attractive to women" is to reform working conditions to make them more hospitable to people who have non-work commitments (like children) or just an interest in having a life apart from work, then it is incredibly sexist and insulting to all concerned to assume that this is only of interest to women. I am all for these reforms, but let's stop acting like they are just going to benefit women, because men have kids and aging parents and hobbies, too.
You know what I think? I think that plenty of girls and young women have an interest in STEM fields, but that as soon as a girl expresses that interest or is seen to be good in a STEM field, she starts hearing that "girls don't do that" or "no boy will want to date you if you're into that" or other such nonsense.
And as soon as a young woman takes any steps to act upon her interest in STEM, she quickly runs into some jerk of a man who wants to tell her that women are innately inferior in this field or who tells her that any award she wins was given to her because she is female. Or who decides to spread rumors that she is sleeping with the TA, and that's why she's getting an A. Or who creeps on her or outright harasses her. And if she expects anyone to reprimand this jerk, she is usually disappointed. She quickly learns that dealing with this sort of behavior is just what she'll have to put up with to pursue this interest.
Then the "concerned" people start in and wring their hands and tell her that the career she's considering will keep her from being a good mother, or finding a romantic partner, or being a generally happy human being with friends, or some other thing that the concerned people imagine is incompatible with being a woman in STEM. And even if she is lucky enough to have a counter-example or two to point to, those helpful, concerned people will tear her counter-example apart. "Well, yes, but she is such a bitch." "Well, yes, but I wouldn't want to put my baby in day care so early." "Oh, but her marriage ended in divorce." Or other such nonsense, all said with a knowing arch of the eyebrows, meant to imply that the STEM field is the root cause of whatever supposedly undesirable thing is being discussed.
And maybe she looks at all that crap and decides to follow one of her other interests, because they are really interesting, too, and why should she put up with this crap? Maybe that is a conscious decision, or maybe it isn't. It doesn't matter.
So you know what I think people should do to make STEM attractive to more women? Stop being so shitty to the women who are already interested in STEM. Basically, stop requiring that a woman be so hugely and unwaveringly interested in STEM that she will put up with being told she isn't a real woman (whatever the hell that is) and treated like crap just to get to work in the field, and I think that you will find that more women are interested in STEM.
Now, this was all just me ranting. I do not have data on these observations, beyond the fact that every single one of the obnoxious things I mention has happened to me personally over the course of my career. Maybe I am wrong, and we could stop telling girls and young women that following their interest in STEM means doing something "unfeminine" and we could stop making women who are interested in STEM put up with sexist comments and insulting and factually incorrect assessments of women's innate abilities in these fields and we could stop tolerating dickish behavior from the men in the field because "they're just having fun" and there still wouldn't be as many women in STEM. But it wouldn't hurt to try, would it?