Where Are the Women?

Scientist and astronaut Sally Ride.

Scientist and astronaut Sally Ride.

Grace Wikenheiser, Staff Writer

As women are becoming more and more prominent in fields such as law, business, and education, why are they still struggling to find their place as scientists and engineers? Forty-eight percent of all jobs in the United States workforce are held by women, yet they only hold 24% of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. This poses a problem because according to the US Department of Commerce, “Our STEM workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs, which leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the US.” However, there are ways that we can work to close the gender gap in STEM fields and to allow women to attain their potential.

BSM engineering teacher, Kirsten Hoogenakker.

The lack of female scientists and engineers starts when girls as young as five are molded by social norms and the expectations of their parents. Our society tells us that women are less likely to succeed in STEM-related academic classes starting in elementary school. However, a study funded by the National Institute of Health revealed that “the academic success of girls equals or exceeds that of boys.” This proves that women have less of a disadvantage in receiving their STEM education than previously believed, but that does not mean the gap has been closed. Even with the academic ability to receive STEM degrees, only 2.5 million females have earned these degrees compared to the 6.7 million males. The number of women receiving these diplomas has dropped annually since 2004.

The discrimination against women does not stop at graduation. Females with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to hold a job in a STEM role, with 84% working in education and healthcare over science and engineering. This may be due to the fact that STEM jobs offer less family-friendly flexibility. This makes it hard for women to be both mothers and scientists, discouraging women who want to have children from pursuing their dream jobs. This is upsetting because a woman in a STEM job tends to make up to 20% more than a woman in any other job, allowing her to better provide for her family. Even though women make more in STEM jobs, an average woman is paid 33% less than her male coworkers. According to a study at MIT, “women receive less despite professional accomplishments equal to those of their male colleagues including differences in salary, space, awards, and resources.” All of these factor into the gender gap in STEM fields.

One more thing that deters women from STEM occupations is the lack of female role models. Because of all of the previously stated factors, there are very few women in STEM jobs, leading to even fewer female leaders in these roles. This is a vicious circle that has led women to see no employment growth since 2000.

Marie Curie, scientist who studied radioactivity.

In order to break the cycle, we must all acknowledge our stereotypes and stop them from discouraging girls from pursuing their interests. We should advocate for flexibility and the lack of a wage gap in all STEM fields. Last but not least, we should spread the word and encourage young girls today. You can make a difference by just giving one girl a science or engineering kit and supporting her while she follows her dreams. By working together, we can encourage women to pursue their dreams in STEM fields and to change our country for the better.