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.

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:

1. University of California, Davis
Female enrollment: 56 percent

2. Cornell University
Female enrollment: 56 percent

3. Johns Hopkins University
Female enrollment: 51 percent

4. Washington University at St. Louis
Female enrollment: 51 percent

5. Duke University
Female enrollment: 50 percent

6. Princeton University
Female enrollment: 49 percent

7. Rice University
Female enrollment: 49 percent

8. Stanford University
Female enrollment: 49 percent

9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Female enrollment: 49 percent

10. University of Chicago
Female enrollment: 47 percent

11. Clemson University
Female enrollment: 46 percent

12. Case Western Reserve University
Female enrollment: 45 percent

13. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Female enrollment: 45 percent

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?

Which States Have The Smallest Gender Gap In STEM Occupations?

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