Women in STEM: Shrinking the Gender Gap

Pooja Chandrashekar graduated from Harvard in 2018 with her A.B in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Global Health and Health Policy. She was also the recipient of the 2018-19 Fulbright U.S Student Research Scholarship.

As a high school sophomore, Chandrashekar founded ProjectCSGIRLS. The goal of this non-profit is to close the gender gap in technology and computer occupations. Women like Chandrasheka are impactful to the movement of increasing the representation of women in STEM.

The United States workforce is made up of 53 percent men and 47 percent women. Women make up nearly half of all occupations, yet this statistic does not hold steady when the focus is put on STEM related jobs.

Women hold 58 percent of social science jobs and 48 percent of biological and medical science jobs. However, they only represent 13 percent of engineering occupations and 25 percent of computer and math jobs.

The gender gap in engineering and computer fields is high and has continued to grow since the 1990’s. These two professions represent 50 percent of the STEM occupational field and this is where the biggest divide is found.

According to PWC reports, only 27 percent of women said they would even consider a tech career, which is considerably lower than their male counterparts. 62 percent of men said that they would consider working in a STEM role. 

Cleverism, a website focused around finding people their dream job, wrote an article about the lack of women in STEM. They credited some of the blame for women not pursuing STEM degrees and careers to it not being presented as a valid option to them. 33% percent of males reported having had someone suggest a STEM related career path to them. Only 16 percent of women reported having similar advice given to them.

Moving forward, how do we shrink this divide and increase the amount of women in STEM?

Understand the role biases play in STEM

Men do not begin to pass women in STEM representation until after high school. During high school, girls are actually more likely to take precalculus, algebra and advanced biology courses. This means that this shift happens during the college years and when entering the workforce. When a man and woman are put up next to each other for the same STEM job the man often gets it. Society needs to focus on being aware that these biases exist and actively try to combat them in STEM related companies.

Typing conducted a study that found there is not one state in the U.S that has more women holding STEM degrees than men. Additionally, there is no state that has more women working in STEM jobs than men. This shows the gender gap cannot be quantified by simply a paycheck. The issue stems from attitude towards women in STEM degrees and follows them into their future professions. 

“While women have made significant strides both in and out of STEM fields, there’s still more ground to gain,” Typing said.

Support women in STEM groups

There is a variety of different women in STEM advocacy groups. Some of them include WECode, WOC STEM Conference and NGCP. These groups inspire women to pursue their goals in STEM and also push society to see women as equals to their male counterparts. It is also a way that many young women in STEM find the mentors they need to reach their occupational goals.

The Cleverism article on women in STEM states, “when the respondents were asked to name someone that inspired them to follow a career in the tech industry, 83% of female respondents were unable to name someone. In contrast, only 59% of male respondents were unable to name someone.”

This shows the need for both young girls and women already in STEM fields to have strong female role models working in a variety of different STEM jobs. This can encourage them to continue down their STEM path and even give them someone who can help walk them through different challenges they may face along the way.

An article published on College Raptor highlights seven organizations that promote women in STEM. It highlights that STEM jobs are higher paying and closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math will also close the income gap in the United States. The seven organizations they listed are:

  1. National Girls Collaborative Project
  2. National Math and Science Initiative 
  3. Women in Engineering Proactive Network
  4. Million Women Mentors
  5. American Association of University Women
  6. Scientista
  7. Association for Women in Science

Encourage young girls to pursue their love for science, technology, engineering and math

If young girls are more likely to take difficult science and math classes at the high school level, then it is unlikely that their love for STEM concepts has just disappeared. Educators and parents need to focus on supporting their love for STEM and push them to continue that curiosity into their adult life.

One way that this can be done is through encouraging stories in regards to women succeeding in STEM. One remarkable story about women in STEM, that is often overlooked or not known about at all, is that six women programmed the first computer. During World War II, Frances Holbert, Kathleen McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Frances Spence and Jean Jennings constructed the Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). After the war ended, the first electronic computer was introduced to the public but the six women were not named or recognized for their contribution. Despite not receiving recognition, these women continued on to make other major contributions in the world of STEM.  

Stories like these can encourage young girls in STEM to continue in these bright womens’ footsteps. Although they may have originally stood in the shadows, undeservingly, of their male counterparts, that did not stop them from continuing to work and excel professionally in their roles.

Create a college environment that supports women in science and engineering

Creating a welcoming and supportive environment for women in science and engineering fields will push more young women to pursue these career paths. This means giving gender-equal opportunities that allow girls to excel next to their male counterparts.

Forbes released a list of the best STEM colleges for women based on opportunity, support and percentage of other women pursuing STEM degrees. The schools on the list are:

University of California, Davis
Female enrollment: 56 percent

Cornell University
Female enrollment: 51 percent

Johns Hopkins University
Female enrollment: 51 percent

Washington University at St. Louis
Female enrollment: 51 percent

Duke University
Female enrollment: 50 percent

Princeton University
Female enrollment: 49 percent

Rice University
Female enrollment: 49 percent

Stanford University
Female enrollment: 49 percent

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Female enrollment: 49 percent

University of Chicago
Female enrollment: 47 percent

Clemson University
Female enrollment: 46 percent

Case Western Reserve University
Female enrollment: 45 percent

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Female enrollment: 45 percent

By attending a college that focuses on women in STEM, young college women can receive the mentorship and education they need to succeed in the workforce. 

However, despite female-centric drives at these universities, many do not have the female staffing necessary to properly mentor these young women. According to an article published by HR Dive, women represent under 50 percent of assistant, associate and full professors. 

The New York STEM Cell Foundation conducted a study into the underrepresentation of women professors at universities and more specifically in science, technology, engineering and math roles. Their study was prompted by the idea that, “When women are prevented from reaching their full potential, the entire field suffers. We need 100% of the available brainpower to make the biggest impact and move research forward as quickly as possible.” 

Of Universities, 38 percent adopted the IWISE actionable strategy to implement policies that support women. These include paid family leave and other policies that connect to flexibility in childcare, funding and further career development. Yet, despite the 38 percent who adopted the strategy, only 8 percent of them met the minimum requirement for gender diversity amongst their faculty. 

The underwhelming results found by The New York STEM Cell Foundation were important in moving forward. They are now moving into what they consider the “recognition phase” where the issues can be properly addressed and combatted.

Changes like these do not happen overnight. For decades now, women around the world have been fighting for women’s rights to be a prominent part of the STEM workforce. It is women like this who continue to pave the way for the young girls of today and tomorrow to be able to follow their dreams.  

In recent years, states have been making deliberate efforts to hire women into STEM fields and create a more equal gender ratio. Maryland has the most even gender gap with 2.1 men for every 1 woman. Below is an infographic that shows the ratio for each state. Where does your state fall on the STEM gender equality spectrum?

Coming up on October 12, the Arizona Science Center will be holding an event for girls in STEM. There will be hands-on science, technology, engineering and math activities for the girls to participate in there.They will also have the opportunity to meet others with similar goals and a love for STEM! This is a great way to dip your daughters toes into STEM topics and allow them to meet women in the STEM fields who are eager to ignite a love for the material in young girls.

Which States Have The Smallest Gender Gap In STEM Occupations