STEM Education: The Occupational Dilemma for Women

STEM Education

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Industries employing scientists, computer programmers, engineers, and medical professionals have historically been male-dominated. However, research shows that when women are given equal opportunities and training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, they thrive just as much if not more than their male counterparts. So why aren’t more women in these fields? Studies suggest this gender gap begins with education. Many bright young girls are not being encouraged to pursue advanced education and degrees in STEM largely due to preconceived notions.

The Gender Gap Begins With Education

Historically, men have always outnumbered women in STEM majors. Though women’s education is heralded as one of the most co-effective investments in global development, gender equality in STEM education is still struggling to meet the expectations. Girls appear to lose interest in STEM subjects with age which results in decreased interest for advanced studies at the secondary level and in higher education. In 2017, women made up approximately one-third (33%) of all recipients of STEM bachelor’s degrees.

Percentage of Women in Postsecondary Institutions in the United States (2015-2016) shows few women are earning degrees in STEM, i.e., Bachelor’s (35.5%), Master’s (32.6%) and Ph.D. (33.7%).The fields of engineering and technology are especially male-dominated and differences can be observed by disciplines where female enrollment is lowest in engineering, manufacturing and construction, natural science, mathematics and statistics, and ICT fields.

Women are less likely to pursue higher-paying STEM fields such as engineering or computer science. In the European Union (EU-28), women accounted for over half (53.3%) of tertiary education graduates in the natural sciences and mathematics and statistics but were only over a quarter (27.7%) of engineering, manufacturing, and construction tertiary education graduates in 2016. Less than a quarter of women were pursuing tertiary education in information and communication technologies in Europe. Women in India earned over half of undergraduate degrees in both Information Technology (51.9%) and Science (51.3%) but remained underrepresented in engineering and technology undergraduate degrees overall (31.7%) in 2017–18. Yet women in India are only 30% of the Information Technology workforce and only about 10% of computer science researchers.

Labor Force

Professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields stand at the forefront of innovation in the world economy. Innovations in STEM and other technological changes have had significant impacts on all aspects of human life and the natural world. However, STEM occupational scale is struggling to tip towards gender balance, especially in the natural sciences and some engineering professions. Men continue to dominate the workforce in many countries, averaged across the region, women accounted for less than a third (28.8%) of those employed in scientific research and development (R&D) across the world in 2015. Central Asia (48.1%), Latin American and the Caribbean (45.4%), Central and Eastern Europe (39.5%), and the Arab States (39.8%), are the only regions were women represented over a third of the R&D workforce. Women accounted for only 12.4% of engineers in Australia’s labor force in 2016 while in August 2018, Australia witnessed less than a quarter (22.8%) of women employment in computer system design and related services. Women unemployment rates for STEM workers in Canada (aged 25 to 34) remains below almost half of the men who work in science and technology in 2016.

A substantial gender gap in engineering and computer occupations leads to women’s overall underrepresentation in STEM. In 2017, women in the United States represented:

  • 25.5% of computer and mathematical occupations.
  • 16.2% of architecture and engineering occupations.

The Gender Gap in High Tech Jobs Is Wide

While diversity in the STEM workforce is necessary, significantly fewer women than men have high-tech jobs. The reason behind this disparity is that many young girls can’t identify a STEM career as personally relevant or attainable. Young women see few women entering into science, technology, engineering, and math field, so they fewer role models and examples to follow. All these contribute less high-tech jobs with a much bigger gap. In 2017, women in the United States accounted for less than 20% of those employed in those positions, including:

  • Software developers, applications and systems software (18.7%).
  • Computer network architects (4.2%).
  • Aerospace engineers (8.9%).

Often, people gravitate toward role models. Unfortunately, STEM occupations lack female role models which mean girls have fewer people to look up to. Historically STEM fields dominated by men have created a taboo for women scientists and technologists. The environment has been seen throughout history where gender representation was dependent on physical abilities. Now many STEM occupations shifted to desk jobs with equal representation are expecting more women to see. However, the stereotypes of women having less natural talent than men are still around which is simply untrue. Studies have shown that women at work can perform equal to men. Because of stereotypes and sexism, many women don’t pursue these paths. And even if they pursue, work experiences impact their decisions to leave. Isolation, male-dominated work environments, bias and a lack of effective women role models are other factors pushing women to leave STEM jobs, opting instead for a major that provides less hassle and issues. Research has shown that once women enter the tech field, they are 545% more likely to leave than men.


Why STEM Fields have fewer women on boards than other industries? Not only STEM, but other male-dominated organizations are also facing the same unfriendly environment and difficult work cultures. When compared to other industries (including non-STEM), the information technology industry had the lowest representation of women. Just over a quarter (28.5%) of companies surveyed still had zero women on their boards in 2017 and only 18% had three or more women. All these combined crumbles system and don’t benefit anyone. Lack of female leaders is a difficult barrier for women to find a place in STEM environments. There are fewer women on the top of organizations to help fight sexism and give female colleagues a place to breathe and work. Women with technology experience may have an advantage in the boardroom. In 2016, women on corporate boards (16%) were almost twice as likely as their male counterparts (9%) to have professional technology experience among 518 Forbes Global 2000 companies.

The Pay Gap

Even in high-paying stem jobs, women earn less than men. Employed minorities and women often concentrated in lower-paying technical occupations. The gender pay gap is wider in the STEM sector than the rest of the workforce. At the annual Scientists Employment and Remuneration Survey conducted by Science & Technology Australia (STA), thousands of STEM workers took part to share their salaries, payment satisfaction rates and will to stay with their current employer. Women working in different STEM fields earn 16% less than their male colleagues. In 2015, Canadian women who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in STEM earned just 82.1% of the earnings of their male counterparts. Even after more than thirty years of equal pay legislation, women in the European Union who worked in professional, scientific and technical activities earned 73.4% of what men did in 2014. In the United States, women in the computer, engineering, and science occupations were paid an estimated 80.3% of men’s annual median earnings in 2017. While earning less than their male counterparts, women still receive a high premium for working in STEM. Women in STEM jobs earn 35% more than women in non-STEM jobs and 40% more than men in non-STEM jobs.

Read Full Post The 10 Most Recognized STEM Universities of 2019



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