Girls’ and young women’s achievement in mathematics and science is on par with boys and young men. Yet, underrepresentation and lack of positive role models make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers especially difficult and unwelcome to women. Negative gender-based experiences, such as sexual harassment, gender-specific mistreatment, are more likely to affect women in STEM at work because they are seen as outsiders by men in the organization. This happens because perceptions of women in STEM are filtered through stereotypes about their gender.
The report “Portray Her: Representations of Women STEM Characters in Media” highlights that 62.9 percent of STEM professionals portrayed in media are men, outnumbering women STEM characters nearly two-to-one.
This unwelcome climate for STEM women is systemic, with gaps and challenges that contribute to these low numbers at every level. Here are some facts about inequity in STEM from K-12 to higher education and continuing onto the workforce:
- 11% of STEM toys are listed as a ‘girl’s toy’ on search engines and toy retailer websites, compared to 31% of STEM toys listed only under ‘boys.’
- In high school, male students were more likely than female students to take engineering (21% versus 8%) and enroll in AP computer science A (77% vs. 23%).
- At the college level, women earn most bachelor’s degrees in psychology, biological sciences, and social sciences. Still, they earn only 20% of computer science degrees, 21% of physics degrees, and 22% of engineering degrees.
- Among STEM faculty, women also reported more gender discrimination than men; in fact, 96 percent of men reported experiencing no gender discrimination compared to 59 percent of women.
- When women enter the STEM workforce, where they make up just 28%, their male counterparts’ annual salaries are nearly $15,000 higher per year than women ($85,000 compared to $60,828). Latina and Black women are even further behind, earning around $33,000 less (at an average of approximately $52,000 a year).
These challenges show how important it is to attract and retain women in STEM fields and that a change in school, university, household, and workplace ecosystems is crucial.
What are the changes necessary to attract and retain women in STEM fields?
Highlight their stories:
Stories of pioneers such as those of computer scientist Ada Lovelace, NASA scientists Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who did the calculations that guided NASA’s 1962 Friendship 7 Mission, and Eunice Foote, the first scientist to discover the warming properties of carbon dioxide and many others need to be told more prominently.
Similarly, the stories of current women STEM leaders need to be amplified to draw attention to their growing role in building a better world.
Stories like those of Maryam Mirzakhani, one of only four people to receive a Fields Medal, which is regarded as the most prestigious award in mathematics since there is no Nobel Prize for math; Bindi Karia, a prominent venture capitalist known as ‘the queen of startups’; Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, who at 19, became Oxford’s youngest graduate from the Master’s Program; Aprille Ericsson-Jackson the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Alba Colon, the NASCAR program manager at General Motors
These stories create new age role models for young women and empower them to chalk out career paths in STEM fields that were previously unheard of.
Turn parents and teachers into allies:
Between 8 percent and 20 percent of mathematics teachers in Latin America reported that they believed mathematics is easier for boys, and research shows that parents in some regions of the world offer a greater preference for sons to work in STEM.
Early support and nourishment for a girl’s (in equal measure to that of a boy’s) natural interest in science should be provided at home and in schools.
Provide mentorship, skills development, and networking opportunities to women in STEM
Evidence suggests that women who receive strong mentorships in their field of work are more likely to ask for pay increases (and get them).
The private sector can play an essential role by providing financial support through scholarships, networks, grants, and other initiatives, providing training focused on digital and other STEM skills, and offering internship opportunities targeting secondary school girls and undergrads.
Remove work obstacles:
Increased labor force participation by women is essential. One way to narrow the gender gap is to remove barriers to hiring women (legal or institutional). For example, in some countries, women still aren’t allowed to do jobs deemed dangerous for them.
Women, men, and businesses can benefit from policies that help them stay at work, like flexible hours, paid family leaves, and childcare support. These policies are fundamental, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
How is Goodera doing its bit?
At Goodera, we’re actively working with ambassadors in STEM through our campaign – #HerStory, supported by women leaders from Meta, Snap, Alteryx, Sequoia, Sthree, GWASE, and more.
This campaign also features interviews and discussions with Goodera’s STEM ambassadors, such as Aisha Lawrey of AWS, Dr. Sangeetha Aditya of GWASE, Lori Rodriguez of Women in Tech, Vanessa Hill of PBS’ BrainCraft, among others.
Follow us as we highlight the stories of women worldwide as they relay anecdotes about their inception into the world of STEM and the challenges they faced in the hopes of inspiring an upcoming generation of young women on the cusp of STEM careers.
We can create a world devoid of gender stereotypes and encourage more brilliant women to enter STEM and change the world!