Less Death and Gender Bias – Why we need more Women in STEM

The insufficient presence of women in STEM-related disciplines is resulting in women needlessly dying and facing programmed discrimination. 

Women die all the time because females are omitted from experimental designs for new drugs and procedures. At first, the reason given for this was that a woman’s reproductive cycle was seen as introducing variability that would hinder the ability to reproduce results. It turns out that the exclusion of women was instead due to biased male-dominated decisions. Research indicates that men have equal or greater behavioral variability than women. 

Outcomes of these biased designs include medical decisions and prescriptions that doctors make for women, that are based on research on the male body.

“Historically and consistently across a broad range of health domains, data have been collected from men and generalized to women.” 

A 2019 study published by the Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr. Janine Austin Clayton for the US National Institute of Health (NIH) said: “We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology.” Dr. Alyson McGregor, co-founder and director of the Sex and Gender in Emergency Medicine Division at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, said she believes “women get the short-shift in health care.” Further, she said, “It’s the bias of a whole medical system.” When physicians are trained to identify symptoms only as they appear in white men, McGregor calls that “one -sex medicine.” 

“Over a ten-year period more than 8,200 women died needlessly following a heart attack. They could have been saved if they had received the same quality of care as men.”

2019 report from the British Heart Foundation

That is, care that accounted for having a female body. A 2018 report published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that women that had severe heart attacks were half as likely as men to be treated properly and twice as likely to die within six months of leaving the hospital. Female heart attack victims treated by female doctors in the ER are more likely to survive. One big problem is that there are only half as many female as male ER docs. Female stroke victims also face an elevated risk of dying for a similar reason. Just being a woman increased the risk of a stroke misdiagnosis by 30 percent. 

In the United States, of ten drugs taken off the market due to severe adverse effects, eight had severe adverse effects on women. A 2018 study into this reported that the disproportionate impact on women was an outcome of “serious male biases in basic, preclinical and clinical research.”

In the past five years, a handful of governments including the United States are mandating that experimental designs for government-sponsored research account for sex. In the USA, the catalyst for this was the appointment of a female in 1991 to lead the National Institute of Health. This though leaves 65-90% of private research that is still being conducted being led by male-dominated researchers, most of which will hold unconscious gender biases.

The lack of women in STEM is also contributing to the perpetuation of gender bias by machines. According to the World Economic Forum, 22% of artificial intelligence (AI) and 12% of machine learning programmers are women. Leadership in tech fields, in general, is about 20% female. With the proliferation of applications of AI, there has been a proliferation of studies showing that women now face discrimination at computing speeds. It’s not intentional; it’s a product of too few female programmers and leaders in tech making sure that AI understands gender differences. 

For women, having more women in STEM disciplines is literally a matter of life and death. 

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