Mariah Lundgren gets to wake up every day and do what she loves.
Being a producer at the Platte Basin Timelapse, a multimedia project that captures changes in the Platte Basin, she gets to combine her curiosity and passion for science to share stories about the natural world.
Yet, she is among a minority of women in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers.
STEM fields have a long history of being a male-dominated world. According to the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit organization for the equity of women, despite the gender gap growing smaller each year, females still continue to be largely underrepresented in STEM disciplines. But it’s not for a lack of talent or ability.
“We didn’t do it because we didn’t see other girls doing it,” Lundgren said. “It’s an endless cycle.”
Lundgren said her interest in environment studies stemmed from her natural curiosity and love of the world around her. But even at a young age, she noticed a lack of women in science-related careers.
While she acknowledged she was lucky to have a supportive system growing up, she said there were not many women role models in STEM fields who were shown in books, media and popular culture.
The National Girls Collaborative Project, an organization that encourages girls to pursue careers in STEM, reported the lack of women is common in STEM fields all over the world. Despite women making up almost 50 percent of the labor market, only 28 percent work in STEM.
Kristal Stoner, executive director of Audubon Nebraska, saw a lack of women in STEM jobs firsthand while working at her previous role with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“It was typical for me to be the only woman in the room,” she said. “That was just kind of normal, just the way it was.”
Until very recently, she said the majority of members in conservation organizations like the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission were male hunters.
However, in recent years she has seen many more women join the conservation community.
Currently, more than 70 percent of the National Audubon Society’s members are women, and more than 60 percent of its staff are female.
“Audubon embraces gender diversity very well,” she said. “And we need more of that elsewhere.”
For her, pursuing a career in science was intimidating. She was told very early in her career that very few women have STEM jobs and that she was going to have to work harder because it’s mostly men in STEM fields. But that didn’t stop her from believing it was possible.
“Everybody brings a different perspective to things and women have a different experience compared to men,” Stoner said. “We need people with different ideas, different perspectives, different life experiences in these STEM fields.”
This change is slowly happening. The NE Game and Parks Commission is another organization that is growing in diversity. Lindsay Rogers, the Fish & Wildlife Education division administrator at Nebraska Game and Parks, said about half of the division leaders are now women.
“We are seeing more and more women in leadership roles, and that’s great,” she said.
That wasn’t the case when she was pursuing her degree in environmental studies. As she got older, she noticed fewer and fewer women in her science-based classes.
“As a child, females have innate curiosity about the world and love science, but societal norms often push them away,” Rogers said. “We need to get their interest in science education early and keep them interested.”
Not everything has changed, Lundgren said, the gender gap is still there, men are still dominating these areas, but women like Stoner, Lundgren and Rogers are paving the way for younger generations of aspiring women to follow.
“Just because there’s not a lot of women doing it, doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” Lundgren said.