Women hold 50% of the all jobs in the US workforce but represent only 26% of workers in STEM jobs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Despite a small representation in undergraduate education (up to 20% in engineering), very few of those who do actually study a STEM degree remain in the field 3 years after graduation. How can we get more women to stay in science?
"One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We've got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we've got a whole bunch of talent ... that is not being encouraged..." – President Barack Obama, February 2013
The government has produced several reports trying to understand and promote the presence of women in STEM. Several mentorship initiatives have been established to encourage girls to pursue science early on. Additional studies indicate that women lean towards the humanities more because of external factors than because of their capabilities.
A recent study by Sapna Cheryan at the University of Washington reveals that the Geeky Image associated with Computer Science is a deterrent for women considering entering the field. The overarching conclusion presented in this report and through movements such as Million Women Mentors, an organization dedicated to increasing the presence of women in Stem Careers, is that girls must begin to see other women in science who they can identify with at an early stage to make them interested in science.
The issue is not if girls are good in math and science (they are), the question is how do we make them identify with STEM areas. In studies, Women studied scored equally well in math and verbal, however they were less likely to have chosen a STEM career over a humanities one. A study by Psychologist Ming-Te Wang at the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that women are in fact in a beneficial position. Given their equal competence in humanities and science, they can choose, so they have more options. However, the drop-out rate of women in science professions is startling high. The lack of visible female mentors both in early education and higher education means that there are fewer female role models for aspiring scientists.
Science pays more. So, why aren't women lining up for STEM jobs? Women earn 41% of PhD's in STEM fields, but make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty in those fields. Some say this attrition is due to a number of factors, including lingering gender discrimination. In addition to the usual discrimination for women who want to balance family life and their professional careers, in academia, there is an unconscious bias against women and their potential contribution to the department. A study at Yale University revealed that male students were more likely to be mentored and receive higher wages than their female counterparts.
Despite the gaping gender gap of women in the field, the salary difference between men and women is one of the smallest: STEM women earn $0.92 for every $1 earned by men, in other occupations that number goes down to $0.77.
Given the current economic conditions, it's as good a time as any for women to start helping themselves to their piece of the pie.The following infographic by Kelly details the market for STEM.