(RNN) - When most people talk about Title IX, it's the athletic opportunities afforded women that gets the most attention. However, the law also prohibits gender discrimination in any educational institution funded by the federal government.
The law opened up opportunities for women in science technology, engineering and math (or STEM) jobs, something former astronaut and first woman of color in space Mae Jemison learned firsthand.
Jemison began pursuing a career in science at a young age. She told the Senate Tuesday she was the first and only girl to take a drafting class at her high school. She was met often with skepticism, but at 16 years old, attended Stanford to pursue a degree in engineering.
"Professors outside the sciences seemed far more welcoming to me and this enabled me to emotionally recharge and surmount the challenges posed by the poor reception I received from my professors in STEM courses - hurdles the male students did not encounter," she said. "I regret to say that I may have earned that engineering degree in spite of, rather than because of, some of my professors."
Since the passage of Title IX, schools have been barred from making girls take a class considered to be more feminine, such as home economics, over one considered more masculine, like auto mechanics. It allows for gender-segregated classes only in very specific circumstances, such as while learning about puberty.
However, work still needs to be done.
According to a recent study from the Girl Scout Research Institution, 57 percent of girls between 14 and 17 years old believe they would have to work harder than men to be taken seriously in STEM careers.
A 2010 study backed up the girls' perceptions. It found that female post-doctoral candidates had to publish as many as 20 more papers than their male counterparts to be considered good in their field.
In the 2003-2004 academic year, more than three-quarters of the students enrolled in computer sciences, engineering and technology programs were men, according to government data.