Historically, women havebeensystematically excluded from higher education. Althoughwe’ve made great progressin opening education to women in recent decades, there is still a great deal of work to be done. This is especially true in the STEM fields, which see a great imbalance of male to female students compared to other college degree programs.
What Is STEM?
STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When someone talks about STEM majors orSTEM fields, they’re talking about degree programs and career paths related to these topics. Thisincludes physics, computer science, mechanical engineering,applied mathematics, and a host ofotherrelated subjects.
Althoughthe STEM acronym wouldn’t be coined until the 1980s, the United States first began to push STEM-related fields heavily in the late 1950s when thegovernmentpassedthe National Defense Education Act inresponse to the launch of Sputnik. The Soviet satellite spurred the U.S. to pour billions of dollars into encouraging students to study fields related to science and math to ensure that the country could become the preeminent technological power.
Today, STEM majors make up a valuable part of any major university.
The Gender Gap in STEM
One of the major criticisms of STEM has to do with the gender disparity in students who graduate with STEM degrees and enter careers related to these fields. Research has shownthatwomen are far less likely to graduate with a STEM degree or enter a career in STEMcompared to their male counterparts.Women of color are even less likely to find the encouragement they need to pursue STEM careers.
Proponents of closing the gender gap in STEM fields point out that not only does the gap reflect unfair conditions and poor treatment of womenover the years, but it also reduces the quality of work and innovation.The main argument isthat scientific progress relies onunique solutions that arise from diverse perspectives, and that closing the gender gapto makeSTEM fields moreaccessible helpsto ensure that tomorrow’s scientists are approaching problems from a variety ofviewpoints.
Women in STEM Statistics
Although we often speak of a broad gender gap that exists across STEM fields, there is a great deal of variety among STEM subfields when it comes to the exact scale and nature of this gap. Some fields may have no gap at all, or may even favor women for graduation and job placement, as is the case in the social sciences, which oftenhavemore women than men. However, others remaindecidedlymale-centric in both practice and principle. To understand the gender gap in STEM, it’s important to recognize how it manifests in each field.
The Gender Gap in Science
Women Earning Science Degrees
Science includes a wide range of fields and disciplines, which all experience the gender gap in different ways. However, some of the greatest offenders include physics and chemistry. Data from the American Physical Society showed that21%of bachelor’s degrees in physics were earned by women in 2017. The problems with such a pronounced gap are further compounded bythe factthatsexual harassment and gender discrimination are persistent in work related to physics.
Although undergraduate degrees in chemistry were awarded on a roughly equal basis between genders —51%for men and 49%for women— that gap grows considerably between undergraduate and graduate school. Only 37%of PhD earners in chemistry were women, according to the same study.
Datafrom the National Science Foundation shows thatin 2017,women made up 29%of all workers in science and engineering jobs. While that’s an improvement from 23%in 1993and 28%in 2010, there’s clearly a lot of work that still needs to be done.
The Gender Gap in Technology
Women Earning Technology Degrees
Someone interested in a technology degree might choose to pursue a field like programming, web development, orcybersecurity. However, the gender gap is especially pronounced in the computer sciences.In2016, only19%of computer science degreeswere awarded to women, which is down from 27% in 1997.
Women in Technological Careers
The numbers don’t get much better for women in computer science careers, with20%of computer scientistsin the U.S.in2019being women.This is in stark contrast to the nearly31%of computer science jobsthatwere filled by women in 1993.
The Gender Gap in Engineering
Women Earning Engineering Degrees
Of all the STEM fields, engineering seems to be especially hard hit by the gender gap.In 2015, just20%of engineering undergraduate degreeswere awarded to women. As with the sciences, this percentage changes drastically depending on the exact field of engineering. Only 13%of mechanical engineering bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women, while almost 50%of environmental engineering graduates were women.
Interestingly, 23%of doctoral degrees in engineering were awarded to womenin 2015. Unfortunately, women in these programs continue toface issues like sexual harassmentat alarming rates.
Women in Engineering Careers
Engineering is the career most heavily affected by the gender gap of all the professional STEM fields. In2019,only13%of working engineers were women. While that number has improved from 8.6%in 1993, there’s still a long way to go to reach gender parity in engineering.
The Gender Gap in Mathematics
Women Earning Mathematics Degrees
Data from the NSF showsthatwomen are performing relatively well as bachelor’s degree earners in mathematics when compared to other STEM degrees. In201642%ofbachelor’s degrees in mathematicswere awarded to women. This is a smaller percentage of degreesasin1997 and 2006, but only because the number of women in mathematics has failed to grow at the same rate as male math majors.
These numbers aretrending opposite of whatyou’ll find for womenwhoearntheir doctoral degrees,which has steadily increased from24%in 1997 up to 28.5%in 2016.
Women in Mathematics Careers
Careers in mathematics are somewhat harder to categorize thanengineering or science, since people with mathematics degrees can put their skills to work in a wide variety of fields. However,15%of tenure-track teaching jobs in mathematicsare held by women. That’s roughlysimilar tothe 18%in computer science and 14%in engineering, suggesting that mathematics faces a serious gender gap inboth theworkforce and in higher education.
Minority Women in STEM Fields
As with other forms of discrimination, we find that the gender gap in STEM oftenillustrates a socioeconomic divide.Womenwho belong toracial, ethnic, cultural,religious, or LGBTQgroups may have unique experiences in STEM fieldsthat present challenges aside fromtheirgender.
Women of Color
Manypeople of colorareunderrepresented in STEM fields.This is especially true for people of Hispanic, African American, or Native American backgrounds. Women of color experience the intersection of discrimination based on their gender and race andareunderrepresentedcompared to white men and women in STEM fields.
Asian women, thoughalsowomen of color, are overrepresented in STEM fields compared to their overall portion of the population.Whilemuchof this disparity can be attributed to family motivation, many organizations have dedicated themselves toward promoting and advancing STEM education for girlsincluding GirlStart, GirlsWhoCode, andthe National GirlsCollaborativeProject.
Women with Disabilities
The majority of scientists and engineers with disabilities are in the labor force, according to data from the NSF. However, while only 14%of scientists and engineers without disabilities are not in the workforce in any capacity, that number jumps to 31%for those with disabilities. Ultimately, having a disability makes it harder to retain employment in STEM.
It’s also important to rememberthatstudents with disabilitiescan face unique challenges in college. Given the harsh environments that women in STEM majors already face, it’s important to make sure that women with disabilities are givenall ofthe tools they need to succeed and continue to diversify the workforce.
When we think about minorities in our society, weusually don’tthink about veterans. However,theirstruggle to reintegrate back into societyafter serving their country isan underreported realityfacing millions.
Asmembersof thearmed forces, womenare afforded opportunities to learn technical skills thatare marketable an easily translate into college credits.To ensure that female veteranscansuccessfullyreintegrate, we must see to it that they don’t face discrimination as women in STEM fields, and that they know where tofindresources to help veterans through college.
Research has shown that LGBTQ students often face discrimination and unkind environments in STEM fields. However, while retention rates for gay men in STEM majors are lower than those of straight men, gay women were actually retained at a higher rate than straight women. However, gay women still face intense discrimination, and their retention rates are below those for straight white men. It’s critical that STEM departments provide resources for LGBTQ students to help them feel included in their college education.
The History of Women in STEM
Althoughimproving inclusiveness for women in STEM has only recently become a hot topic, women have been making waves in STEM fields since humans began to examine the natural world. One way to bolster the ranks of future women in STEM will to be acknowledge the contributions women have made to fields like science and mathematics in the past.
Famous Women in STEM
Many women have made significant contributions to our understanding of the world, but these are only now being recognized. Below are just a few of the women who have changed the way that we think about the natural world.
Ada Lovelacewasanearly computer scientist. She is credited with the creation of the first computer program when she developed an algorithm for Charles Babbage’s analytical engine that would output Bernoulli numbers. Although she died of uterine cancer at age 36, her work was instrumental to the advancement of early computer science.
Marie Curieis widely regarded as the most inspirational female scientist of all time. She was also the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice; first in 1903 for her work in physics, andagain in 1911 for her work in chemistry. Curie’s work dealt primarily with radioactivity, including the discovery of several radioactive elements. The radioactive element curium, which was discovered in 1944 after Curie’s death, was named in her honor.
Katherine Johnsonis an African American mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race with the Soviet Union. Sheand her colleagues were often referred to as “human computers”due to their proficiency in mathematics, and the calculations she made were critical to putting Americans in orbit, and eventually in allowing humans to land on the moon.
Rosalind Franklin was an English chemistwhose work on molecular structures formed the foundation of our understanding of the fundamental workings of things like DNA, RNA, and viruses. She died early at age 37.
Sally Ride was an astronaut, engineer, and physicist. Her position as the firstAmericanfemale astronaut and the third woman to travel into space, as well as her science books aimed at children,havecreated the legacy ofan inspirational figure for many young women and girls interested in STEM fields.
AnoushehAnsari is an Iranian Americanengineer and businesswoman, best known forco-sponsoring theX Prize Foundation which offered a$10millionprize for the firstprivateorganization to launch a reusable crewed spacecraft.Ansari overcame difficult odds to becomethefirstIranian andfirstfemaleMuslimin space.
Importance of Women in STEM Fields
Although individual women would benefit from the creation of more inclusive atmospheres in STEM fields, these fieldscanalso benefitas a wholebybecoming more inclusive.
Science functions best when it considers a wide range of diverse perspectives. When scientific fields exclude women, theyexcludetalented future scientists, as well as fresh perspectives that could be used to approach old scientific problems. In general, research has shownthatdiverse workplaces are happier and more productive,suggesting that STEM organizations could do better for themselves by being more inclusive.
Benefits of Women in STEM
Bringingmore women into STEM fieldsnot only improvesthe quality of workin those fields,but italsoopensupgreatercareer opportunities forwomen. In 2017, the starting salariesforSTEM majorswereamong the highest of any majors.Encouragingmore womento pursuewell-paying STEM fields can help toreducethe gender pay gap.
Obstacles to Women in STEM
Women face unique obstacles when it comes toattendingschool and working in STEM fields.Many women in STEM report the following kinds of mistreatment from their coworkers
- Higherdemands:Women report being asked to provide more evidence or being held to higher standards than their male colleagues.
- Familypressure:Manywomen in STEMprofessionsreport being told by a coworker that they should work less after having children.
- Feminineroles:Women report feeling pressure from coworkers to play a feminine role, such as office motheroranotherwise demure and dainty imagein the workplace.
- Mistakenidentity:Women —particularlyAfrican American and Latina women working in STEM — report being mistaken for custodial or administrative staff, rather than being recognized as the scientists and engineers they are.
The Gender-Equality Paradox
The Gender-Equality Paradoxis atheoreticalpresumption that highlights a disconnectbetween gender equality and representation in STEMfields.As the paradox goes, in countries with a great deal of gender equality in societyat largethere is no corresponding equal representation for women in fields that have conventionally beenmale-dominated, such as many of the STEM fields.
In fact,as gender equality increases in a country, representation in STEM fields decreases. Some researchers point to countries like Sweden and Norway, which are rated very well according to gender equality, but onlyaccount for 20%female representationwhen it comes toSTEM graduates.Meanwhile, countries like Tunisia and Algeria areranked at the lower end of the scale forgenderequality, buthave much higherrepresentationof female STEM graduates.
However, the idea of the Gender-Equality Paradox is not without its problems. Critics point out that countries withlowerrepresentation in STEM fields have a long history of excluding women from science and mathematics, which is deeply embedded into the culture that surrounds young girls asthey growup. They also point out that there is no gap in ability, since researchers found that girls performed as well or better than boys on science tests in most countries.
Closing the Gap: Solutions to Get More Women in STEM
True solutions toclosingthe gender gap in STEMfieldsmustwork on multiple levels. Exclusion begins in childhood, when young girlsarediscouragedfrom science and mathematics and encouraged to adopt more care-oriented work. Bad practices continue through education and into the workplace, where women are discriminated against in STEM majors and companies.
In the home, parents should take care to remind their children that they can grow up to do anything that they want, while providing a wide range of opportunities for children to explore their interests, including those related to STEM, such as coding camps and science fairs.
In education, scholarships and grants can help to bring women into STEM departments. However, it’s critical that these departments do everything in their power to prevent discrimination and sexism against female students to improve retention rates.
In the workplace,employersmust workto identify and address discrimination in their hiring practices so they can produce a diverseworkplacethat promotesgreater happiness and productivity among their employees. Best practices around manager-employee relationships and pay scales should also be identified so women are treated with equal respect by their male colleagues for their work.
Outside of schools and the workplace, broader societal changes are called for. Women are often harder hit by a couple’s decision to raise a family, forcing them to take moretimeofffromwork during critical periods in their careers, such as early on at a new job or even during their doctoral studies.
Resources and Organizations for Women in STEM
Below are resources for women who are interested in pursuing a STEM career and those who may support them.
- Smithsonian Science Education Center— A portal with information about women in STEM.
- Open Colleges— A list of programs that are dedicated toencouragingwomen into STEM majors and careers.
- Society of STEM Women of Color— An organization dedicated specifically to helping women of colorgain accessandremainactive in STEM careers.
- The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine—Features resources andstatistics related to women in STEM, including school performance, workplace representation, and salaries.
- Maryville University—This site includes alistingof financial aid resources, including scholarships and grants, specifically aimed at helping women.
Bachelor degrees with the highest earning potential
College planning resources for high school students
What is cyberbullying? Information and resources for students, parents, and teachers
Since the law's enactment, women have made some gains in science and engineering — they've gone from representing just 8 percent of STEM workers in 1970 to 27 percent in 2019. But men still dominate, making up half of all U.S. employees but 73 percent of the STEM workforce.How does STEM affect gender gap? ›
The Gender Gap in STEM
Research has shown that women are far less likely to graduate with a STEM degree or enter a career in STEM compared to their male counterparts. Women of color are even less likely to find the encouragement they need to pursue STEM careers.
- Introduce girls to STEM topics from a young age.
- Foster their motivation to study math and science.
- Challenge society's limited thinking by teaching girls about the accomplishments of women in STEM industries.
- Challenge your own internal/unconscious bias about women working in STEM.
Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.Why is there a lack of women in STEM? ›
Education and perception
The percentage of PhDs in STEM fields in the U.S. earned by women is about 42%, whereas the percentage of PhDs in all fields earned by women is about 52%. Stereotypes and educational differences can lead to the decline of women in STEM fields.
Less flexible working hours and, perhaps, also job-related frequent travelling may limit individual independency and may cause a conflicting situation that women come under pressure and tend to step back from their career track.How many girls lose interest in STEM? ›
60% of women opt out of STEM careers by the time they attend college. New research finds that many young women lose their initial interest in STEM careers as they grow older, David Nagel writes for Campus Technology.What percent of STEM is female? ›
Despite accounting for around half of the employed US workforce, women in the United States made up only a third (34%) of those employed in STEM occupations in 2019. Women with bachelor's degrees and higher largely contribute to this proportion, making up 44% of the STEM workforce.What makes a STEM challenge? ›
STEM challenges are activities where students design and build solutions to problems using a combination of science, technology, engineering, and math skills. STEAM challenges are the same thing, with “Art” included.Why is gender equality in STEM important? ›
Gender and sex discrimination is a large deterrent for women and nonbinary individuals entering STEM fields. According to a Pew Research Center survey, half of women in STEM jobs say they've been discriminated against. If women are undervalued and face sexism, they're less likely to want to join STEM fields.
Promoting diversity and inclusion: Gender equity can foster diversity and inclusion, leading to more innovative solutions to societal challenges. Economic growth: Losing the gender gap in STEM can help address the skills gap in the STEM workforce, leading to economic growth and job creation.How to increase female representation in STEM? ›
The California education system can close the exposure gap by introducing girls to the idea of technical careers at an early age — as early as possible. It can start by making computer science a required foundation course for every student.What is the biggest challenge for women in STEM? ›
Gender Bias Pushes Women Away From STEM
Women face unique challenges when pursuing STEM careers. Stereotypes about women's abilities start early, often undermining their confidence in their mathematical and technical skills. Even girls as young as 3 or 4 can fall prey to these stereotypes.
- Male-Dominated Culture. ...
- The Wage Gap. ...
- Education Gap. ...
- Intrinsic Biases. ...
- Fewer Role Models and Mentors. ...
- Imposter Syndrome. ...
- Breaking the Barriers of STEM.
The retention of diverse talent
If an environment doesn't try to be accommodating, it's fairly hard to stay in it. Historically, there have been far fewer women working in engineering companies, and as a result, companies are often less considerate of women's needs.
Gender-based Social Differences
Men and women socialize and interact in different ways. Men tend to be more vocal while women may pursue non-confrontational strategies to make their point. This difference in communication styles is a source of conflict that may be driving women away from STEM fields dominated by men.
Underrepresented groups in computing, a subset of the STEM fields, include Hispanics, and African-Americans.At what age do girls stop being interested in STEM? ›
"Girls become interested in so-called STEM subjects around the age of 11 and then quickly lose interest when they're 15."At what age do girls lose interest in STEM? ›
A new survey conducted by Microsoft in Europe found that young girls gain interest in STEM subjects at age 11 and then lose it again by age 15.Who is a famous woman in STEM? ›
- GRACE HOPPER – COMPUTER SCIENTIST & ADMIRAL. ...
- KATHERINE JOHNSON – SPACE SCIENTIST & MATHEMATICIAN. ...
- MARIE CURIE – PHYSICIST & CHEMIST. ...
- ADA LOVELACE – COMPUTER PROGRAMMER. ...
- BARBARA MCCLINTOCK – CYTOGENETICIST. ...
- ROSALIND FRANKLIN – CHEMIST.
Despite some progress, in the United States the geosciences have remained one of the least-diverse among science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in terms of racial representation.What is the weakness of STEM? ›
STEM suffers from a lack of uniform curriculum.
The biggest issue plaguing STEM education at large is the lack of uniform guidelines for what students should learn or what qualifications teachers require for hiring. Every program at every STEM school is different.
Computer science is considered one of the hardest STEM majors because it requires a deep understanding of programming languages, algorithms, and data structures, as well as a strong math and logical reasoning aptitude.Why are kids not interested in STEM? ›
Misconceptions and breaking misconceptions impact student's perception and interest in STEM. 52% of Americans don't pursue STEM because they perceive that it is “too hard”; and for many individuals perception is reality.What percentage of STEM students are female? ›
Overall, the percentage of female graduates with core STEM degrees is steadily growing, however, the split is still just 26%.What is the ratio of men to women in stem jobs? ›
Women made gains – from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52% of all U.S. workers but 73% of all STEM workers. In 1970, women made up 38% of all U.S. workers and 8% of STEM workers.What percent of girls are interested in STEM? ›
A new survey by Junior Achievement (JA) conducted by the research group Engine shows that only 9 percent of girls between ages of 13 and 17 are interested in careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). This is down from 11 percent from a similar survey in 2018.What percent of women drop out of STEM? ›
These preliminary results show that attrition from STEM majors is common: among all students who start college as STEM majors, after 4 years of college, 45 percent of women and 43 percent of the men have left the STEM majors.Why we need more females in STEM? ›
Educating, training and hiring more women and other underrepresented groups in STEM can also lead to better scientific and financial outcomes. This is because increasing diversity in the workforce means gaining a variety of perspectives and ideas, which can give organizations a competitive edge.What is the most male dominated STEM field? ›
- Mechanical Engineers. ...
- Surveying and Mapping Technicians. ...
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers. ...
- Computer Network Architects. ...
- Chemical Engineers. ...
- Psychologists. ...
- Medical and Health Services Managers. ...
- Operations Research Analysts.
The median earnings of women in STEM occupations ($66,200) are about 74% of men's median earnings in STEM ($90,000). The gender pay gap in STEM jobs has narrowed from 72% in 2016. The gender pay gap in STEM is wider than in the broader labor market, however. In 2019, the gender pay gap across all occupations was 80%.Where is the highest number of women working in STEM? ›
In 2021, the country of Georgia had the highest share of women employed in STEM fields, with 55.6 percent of all those employed in STEM fields being women.How can we get more women in stem? ›
- Encourage Participation in Clubs and Activities. Again, the key is to nurture an interest in STEM-related careers at an early age. ...
- Encourage Women Mentorship. The impact of mentorship is immeasurable to encourage more women in tech. ...
- Embrace Agile Principles. ...
- Involve Males.
Long work hours may indeed disproportionately lead women rather than men to leave science and engineering, but long work hours may also disproportionately lead skilled women to leave other fields. Women may simply churn more than men in search of a job with optimal work hours.