However, the argument I have been faced with is "we risk alienating other minority groups by focussing so much on women. If we tell people all we care about is women, then they'll be left thinking that we don't care about them. Like, what about people with learning disability or mental health problems?".
OK, first - *screams*
Right, now that is out of the way, let me calmly break this down for you. I do not believe that anyone who is currently focussing on the issue of women in STEM is unaware of the general issue of under-representation of minority groups. We are all to aware that STEM is pale, stale and male. I personally am passionate about not only dealing with the women in STEM issue, but also in encouraging kids from disadvantaged backgrounds into STEM. And race is a HUGE problem in STEM too, though I'm not going to deal with that, because it wasn't raised.
WE CAN CARE ABOUT MORE THAN ONE THING AT ONCE!!!!! I'm not sure why this appears so difficult for some to wrap their heads around. But it is infuriating the frequency that this "what about this other thing" argument comes up whenever people begin to focus on issues faced by women. We are capable of understanding that there are many problems around recruitment into and retention in STEM subjects and careers. We are all intelligent, passionate people. We care about our subjects and we want to make it a better place for everyone. By making a bit of noise about one minority group, it doesn't mean we don't care about the rest.
WOMEN ARE 51% OF THE POPULATION!!! This is an important point to remember. Women are not a "minority" group. We make up half of the population and so should be represented accordingly across STEM. It is not unreasonable to focus on an issue that affects HALF OF THE POPULATION!
Lets put this into perspective: 2.4% of the UK population have some form of learning disability (source) of these 41% are women. So, in terms of alienating those with learning disabilities, we're talking about possibly, maybe, alienating .98% of the UK population. That's right, less than ONE PERCENT!! So, we shouldn't focus on the women in STEM issue, which affects 51% of the population, JUST IN CASE less than 1% of the population feel alienated? Hmm, not seeing the sense here.
How about Mental illness? Well Mind regularly give the 1 in 4 statistic: that is that 25% of people will at some point during there lifetime suffer from some type of mental health issue. This is a larger and more substantial number of people, but again we need to take account of how many of these are women. Statistics here get complicated, since some MH diagnoses are more common in women and others in men. So, for simplicity, I'm going to say that half of those with mental health issues are women. So, again in focussing on the women in STEM issue, we MAY alienate 12.5% of people.
Even if we ignore co-morbidity (i.e. the overlap between those with mental health issues and learning disability) we are possibly, maybe going to make roughly 13.5% of the population feel like we don't care about them, in order to tackle a problem that affects 51% of the population. Personally, I don't think those are bad odds. I'm prepared to take the risk.
If you look at this handy diagram (not *exactly* to scale, since I drew it by hand, but I did try to make it at least somewhat representative) you can see what I mean. Those people represented by the purple areas, are the ones that could feel alienated and excluded as a consequence of the focus on women in STEM issue.