Bridging the gender divide: Guide to overcoming broadband access to be a woman leader in STEM
Here's our guide discussing the gender divide and how women are largely underrepresented within the U.S. shows contributing factors, the growth of STEM employment, and resources and college programs to help you.
We've all heard the common myths why women aren't in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers: young girls aren't interested in such rigorous topics, or women just don't perform as well in them as men. Let's be clear: None of those excuses is based on fact. The point still remains that women are largely underrepresented in these professions. Since 1990, STEM employment has increased by almost 80%, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million STEM jobs. While women comprise 47% of all workers in the U.S., they represent only 24% of the STEM workforce. The percentage of women in STEM is not equally spread out among the disciplines; while women make up three-quarters of the healthcare practitioners and technicians, there is still a shortage of women in other STEM careers, including engineering, computer, and physics.
This isn't just a conversation for the women. All people must be included in the discussion of how to make STEM an achievable path for young girls and women. This guide discusses the gender divide, its contributing factors and contains some available resources and college programs.
Why are women so underrepresented in STEM?
The reasons women don't pursue STEM careers vary by person and can be attributed to a number of influences. However, some stand out among the list.
Exposure and access
Nearly 20% of American students attend rural schools. Students attending schools in rural areas face several unique barriers to accessing a STEM education not felt by their urban counterparts, including a shortage of math and science teachers and a significant turnover rate among the teachers they do have. They also do not always have access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities that other schools have, which leaves their students behind in both exposure and education. Pair this lack of access with the barriers young girls feel about their abilities in the subjects, and you see a detrimental pattern forming. Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, mentioned the possible bias in educators that leads them to favor boys for STEM activities over girls. She said, "a girl who tries a STEM assignment or activity and doesn't do well the first time maybe makes an assumption that she's not good at it because she's a girl rather than because of how the subject is being introduced or taught. To her."
All people must be included in the discussion of how to make STEM an achievable path for young girls and women.
Dr. Carol O'Donnell, Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center, spoke about the idea of a "STEM education ecosystem" that branches out past the school and into homes and the community. The Smithsonian provides an array of free e-books and digital resources that inspire in children all across the country the desire to learn. Such a noble effort is sometimes spoiled when you think about all the students who still do not have access to these resources. Many students in more rural parts of the U.S. do not have reliable internet access in their homes. In fact, around 24 million people do not have access to 25Mbps internet, meaning that the STEM education ecosystem falls short in the home. Limited resources and the lack of internet access of these rural communities perpetuate the ongoing issue.
Young girls often struggle with feeling like they don't belong in these disciplines, as well as self-efficacy or the belief that they will succeed in the field. In fact, these are some of the most cited reasons for the limited representation of women in STEM careers. Dr. O'Donnell stated another important factor: mentorship for young girls. It's one thing to provide them with access to these disciplines; it's another thing entirely to supply them with role models and mentors that will inspire and motivate them.
It helps young girls to see people who look like them in these positions, so they realize it isn't out of reach. Dr. O'Donnell spoke about her own journey and her love for science. Carrying an engineering notebook around as they played by the stream behind her house, she set out to be a science teacher because that was the role model she had seen. She said, "that was all I really thought I was capable of. Looking back, I wish that I had more opportunities for female role models who were in engineers or scientists positions."
Putting mentorship programs across the country into effect is essential to connecting young girls to these career options and showing them nothing is out of reach. These environments give young girls a place where they can learn, engage and grow.
Inadequate collegiate support
Without adequate collegiate support, recruitment and retention of women into STEM fields will remain low. Colleges and universities steering their female students into STEM majors and emphasising the real-life applications of STEM is another way to address the drastic gender difference. These institutions should ensure they're providing support by presenting students with female role models working in STEM, using inclusive messaging, and creating a learning environment that encourages confidence building when obstacles or challenges are faced in the curriculum.
Some colleges and universities offer STEM support, like the University of California, San Diego and Smith College, but these practices are not widely adopted yet. Another part of the process colleges should be concerned with is how women feel within their STEM-related programs. In fact, statistics show only 12.6% of female college students graduate with a bachelor's in science and engineering, and nearly half of all women in STEM careers drop out of the field within the first 10 years.
To ensure that their students succeed in achieving their degrees, colleges should make strides to ensure that the sometimes masculine or agentic environments don't turn women away before they start. Many women have stated that the social climate and lack of advancement opportunities are some of the main reasons that they choose to leave their field or degree.
Large pay gaps
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, white women employed in STEM fields earn 72% of what their male counterparts earn, with black (62%) and Latina (61%) women earning even less. This pay gap decreases as the education level increases, but even at the doctorate level, women still earn about 20% less than their male colleagues. These pay gaps and other workplace challenges, like gender biases and poor work-life balance, make retaining female employees in STEM fields challenging.
Why companies should hire women into STEM positions
According to the Kauffman Foundation, women-led private technology companies were found to be more capital-efficient, achieving a 35% higher ROI. First Round Capital discovered tech companies with a female founder perform 63% better than those with founding teams wholly composed of men.
Companies are rewarded for their gender diversity, and not just by a rush of public support. Women-led start-ups may actually make more money. There is a statistically significant correlation between the innovation of the company and the diversity of its leaders. That's not all: The same study found that companies with more diversity reported revenue that was approximately 19 points higher than companies that lack women.
Why women should pursue a career in STEM
STEM jobs have been demonstrated to be a reliable and significant economic growth driver, with a strong correlation between gender diversity and earnings. Diversifying these careers introduces a variety of different experiences and ideas that will enhance the products of these fields as the needs of more people are considered. Furthermore, women of all races being present in these careers helps to ensure that the research being done is unbiased and that different perspectives are being considered.
The narrative of women's subpar performance and lack of interest is unfounded and wholly invalid. There are legitimate reasons that women are not represented in these careers, and thankfully, more and more companies and private entities are recognizing the shortcomings. Meaning the road to STEM careers for women will ultimately be easier in the future.
Technology is shaping the world now, and women should have a hand in it in the future.
Encouraging young girls to pursue STEM
Encouraging young girls to pursue and embrace science and math subjects at an early age has a significant impact on their interest in these subjects. The responsibility does not only fall on the school system; there are a number of activities you can do at home to foster a passion for these subjects.
Products and projects that encourage an interest in STEM
Cabbage juice chemistry: Have fun teaching your children about chemical reactions while enjoying the fun color changes as red cabbage juice turns blue when added to baking soda.
GoldieBlox: A line of STEM-based videos, books, apps, and more, featuring a girl engineer character.
Magnetic slime: Work alongside your young scientists on a fun, at-home project making magnetic slime -- using an easy recipe from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls.
Pendulum painting: Teach your child about gravity by creating a pendulum at home using a broomstick, a styrofoam cup, and some string. Poke a hole in the cup, fill it with paint, let it swing, and watch paint patterns form on a piece of paper placed below.
SmartGurlz: A line of robots and action dolls that engage and encourage girls to learn to code.
Yellow Scope: Companies like Yellow Scope make it easy to support young scientists with complete at-home science kits specially designed for girls, which spark interest and creativity.
STEM resources and programs
There are a lot of resources and programs available -- both online and in the real world -- for supporting, nurturing and getting young girls involved in STEM.
Here's a list of resources covering everything from engineering and computer coding to cosmology and astrophysics:
Techbridge Girls: Aimed at educating girls from low-income communities through high-quality STEM programming.
Pre-college programs for women in STEM
Proper early-age encouragement in STEM can lead to a lifelong interest in the field. And it doesn't have to stop after young girls aren't interested in the science-based toys aimed at children. There are STEM resources for all ages. Budding scientists benefit from continued exposure to higher levels of education and experience.
Consider these pre-college programs for women interested in pursuing careers in STEM:
Cornell Engineering: A chance for young girls to learn more about Cornell University's Diversity Programs in Engineering (DPE) during high school summer break.
Engineer Girl: A fun website designed for young girls interested in STEM, featuring design challenges, interviews with engineers, information on STEM careers, and more.
G.R.A.D.E. Camp: A week-long day program at the University of Houston for female students (grades eight to 12) that are curious about engineering.
NASA STEM Engagement: Resources for high school students, including information on how to be an astronaut, internships, free lectures, videos, and more.
Finding a mentor, understanding the STEM support programs available, and finding scholarships that support STEM education are important and powerful tools for young women in college interested in pursuing degrees in STEM fields.
These organizations can make finding the support of a mentor in college easier:
Association for Women in Science (AWIS): AWIS is a global organization inspiring leadership, research, and solutions for the advancement of women in STEM. Find a local chapter to explore available mentoring opportunities.
Smithsonian Women's History Initiative: A congressionally supported and mandated program, it highlights women's achievements both past and present. It also gives young girls mentorship and internship opportunities.
Women's Center at the University of Connecticut: Their Women in STEM Mentoring Program matches freshman and sophomore students with juniors and seniors pursuing STEM majors to provide support, guidance, and enhance women's role in STEM at UConn.
A dynamic in-college program focusing on access to education and training, which they believe is of paramount importance for young women in STEM. AkiraChix aims to support students by helping them move beyond the harrowing cycle of "low-skills, low-productivity, and low-wage employment" — acting as another step toward bridging the gender divide in STEM.
The core focus of this program is increasing participation by women in the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) industry. They offer programs for girls and women from kindergarten through college, as well as support for job placement upon graduation.
STEM scholarships and grants for women
Scholarships play an important, often a vital role in assisting young women in pursuing advanced degrees in STEM. Financial need is a barrier to education in many cases. Here is a list of STEM scholarships available for women:
Participants must be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program approved by Alpha Omega Epsilon National FoundationMust be entering sophomore through senior yearCannot be the recipient of full funding for education from another organizationCannot have previously received an Alpha Omega Epsilon scholarship
For undergrad/community college applicants: must be planning to study an ABET-accredited programMasters and Ph.D candidates must be enrolled with ABET-accredited programsMust attend full timeCannot be fully funded for tuitionTranscripts must be in English
U.S. Citizen or permanent residentReserved for rising junior or senior undergraduate studentApplicants must be enrolled full-time at an accredited college or universityMust major in chemistry or a chemistry-related scienceMust have previously conducted research at the university or plan to do so.Minimum GPA of 3.25 Must be able to demonstrate financial need
Must be enrolled in a 2-4 year college or universityAdditionally they must be enrolled in classes at the time the scholarship payment is received.Must be planning a career in computer science, information technology, management information systems, or related field
Computer science and engineering degree programs are some of the highest in demand, though a number of STEM careers are expected to continue to increase. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, degrees within the STEM classification will continue to earn the highest starting salaries. The future is exceptionally bright for students majoring in software engineering, computer science, and computer management information systems. Check out the National Science Foundation (NSF) for an interactive educational resource that will allow you to explore topics and data for an array of STEM careers.
Finding the right school for you is another important milestone, though there is a lot to consider. When it comes to identifying STEM schools and programs that are a strong choice for women, consider this list of questions to ask:
What is the retention and graduation rate for women in STEM at the college or university?
Am I interested in their coursework?
What is the male-to-female student ratio in the school's STEM programs?
What types of policies and initiatives are in place to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for female STEM students?
What campus resources are available to women in STEM programs while in college and after graduation?
How many women faculty members are there in the school's STEM programs?
Wondering where women study STEM? The top five schools in the U.S. that graduate the highest proportion of female STEM majors are:
1. The University of California, San Diego (32.7% of female STEM majors)
2. North Carolina State University at Raleigh (31.5%)
Another school selection strategy is to find schools that offer STEM programs for prospective students, such as the Summer Science & Engineering Program at Smith College and the Shake Hands with Your Future program at Texas Tech University, which allow participants to explore the school and experience life on campus prior to applying. Participants can also use these types of opportunities to connect with professors and other department leaders to discuss personal goals and ambitions related to STEM.
Types of careers in STEM
When it comes to careers in STEM, the choices are wide and varied. Which career field you choose will vary by what your interests and strengths are. Some in-demand career options are:
Negotiating the best salary can be intimidating; a study for Glassdoor found that 68% of women accept a salary without negotiating, compared to men at 52%. Salary negotiation is a tactic women can use to attempt to close the wage gap that is present in every industry. Here are five tips to help young women in STEM fields get a salary closer to their worth:
1. Do your research
Gathering research about the company is one of the most important tools you have in your interviewing arsenal. It helps determine how high you can set your salary bar and what you should prepare to show them you are the best possible candidate. Check out employer review sites like Payscale and Glassdoor for the inside scoop on company salaries.
2. Know your value
It's essential to understand the average salary for professionals in your field, paying particular attention to male wages. It's not always easy to see where you fall within the pay scales, but going in with a general idea of what you should expect will help you avoid accepting an inadequate salary. Talk to recruiters and use online salary calculators to determine the salary parameters for your field.
3. Understand your worth
Now that you know your dollar value, it's essential for women in STEM to understand their worth and not be afraid to ask for it. Don't undersell your strengths and what you can bring to the company. Consider the value attributed to male colleagues and place yourself at the same level.
4. Use salary negotiation teams
To prepare yourself and develop some necessary skills, consider joining a salary negotiation team so you can learn how to leverage the best deal for yourself. Programs like "Just Ask!" and the American Association of University Women are available to provide you with negotiation tools that help you get comfortable asking for your fair share.
5. Show off your skills
Showcasing your unique skill set is key for putting you in the best possible negotiation position. It's hard to block your salary requests when you demonstrate to a hiring manager how exactly you meet their needs.
Top companies hiring/ recruiting for women in STEM
Top companies all over the U.S. are working hard to attract and retain top female STEM applicants. The list below is just a sampling of companies eager to bring the brightest new minds from the STEM field into the fold.
Why do you think there are statistically so few women in STEM professions?
There has been a lot of research done around why young girls don't actually pursue STEM degrees or persist in those degrees. Some of the factors that explain why they don't pursue STEM degrees have to do with psychological or social factors. Many young women view STEM careers as being agentic rather than communal. Agentic meaning they are built on money and power and status, and that's not necessarily, according to psychological science, something that is attractive to young women.
What role do you think early exposure to resources and classes play?
Many studies have shown that the age at which these young girls decide the path they want to take… is even as young as ten. Young girls are making decisions about their ability to persist in certain disciplines. It's really crucial that from a very young age, including early education, we are giving young girls to not only have success in STEM education but also give them the opportunity to see people who look like them in those careers.
How would you recommend that parents stimulate or foster interest in their children?
You may have heard the term "STEM education ecosystem," in other words, the responsibility in creating authentic STEM experiences for young girls or boys lies not only in the schools but lies in the community. Think about… informal environments where parents can take their children… to learn about life on earth or biodiversity. Or … to your local zoo to learn about conservation at a very young age and what they might be able to do to support a more sustainable life.
The Smithsonian also deeply believes that you can bring those resources to youth by bringing the resources of the Smithsonian that are STEM-focused directly to students through what we consider to be a virtual Smithsonian. Our job is to provide free STEM resources to those parents so that students can engage in them, whether it be an e-book or free digital resources. We take our role as a public service entity very seriously.
What types of mentorship opportunities are available?
At the Smithsonian, we have what's called the "Smithsonian Women's History Initiative." While that doesn't sound at all like STEM, it actually is about women past, present, and future. Through this initiative, which is congressionally supported and mandated, we have been able to bring young women from across the country to the Smithsonian to serve in these mentorship opportunities.
We've been able to provide mentorship opportunities to young girls so that they can see themselves as either working within a museum or research environment. We also have worked with 16 other federal agencies that have put together internship opportunities for young girls and boys across the country… to engage in internships across the STEM federal agencies.
To young women who hope to succeed in STEM, what advice do you have?
Persist. If there is one phrase you keep in the back of your mind the entire time, it's "don't give up." If persisting is one of our biggest challenges of keeping women in the STEM field, then individual women have to recognize that it's okay to speak up. That it's okay to ask the right questions and not to be afraid. And that's why it's important that men are a part of the conversation and that we don't exclude them from the discussions around how we can help young girls.
Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts on the USA
What is your background in STEM?
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from New Mexico State University and an MS in industrial engineering from Stanford University. I started my career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I had the opportunity to work on two incredible projects: the Voyager 2 flyby of Jupiter and two of its moons, Io and Europa, and on the Solar Polar Solar Probe, now known as the Parker Solar Probe. (It finally launched, decades later, in August 2018!) I later pursued a career in technology, working as an engineer and executive at Apple, Dell, Autodesk, and IBM.
Did you face any challenges in your professional experience? Do you think it was related to your gender? I realized early on in my time in tech that there was a lot of informal networking that really impacts your career and that, as a woman, I was left out of. In one of my first jobs at IBM, I noticed that the guys would always huddle with the male engineers on my floor but never include me or any of the other women engineers. They would talk about the business strategies and plans, what the boss wants to hear. So it felt like there was all this inside information that I wasn't privy to, which put me and the other women at a disadvantage. I tried crashing the party a few times, and they closed up kind of quickly.
I definitely had to spend a lot of energy tackling the different artificial barriers that stood in my way. There were a lot of assumptions I had to push through. For example, I speak English and Spanish fluently, and when I was working for a tech company, there was an opportunity to go to Latin America. I had the sales, marketing, tech, and engineering background for the position, so I went to talk to the hiring vice president, and he said, "I can't have you in that role. You're a woman." "Why is that?" I wondered, and he said, "I feel like you wouldn't be safe." So, having learned that safety was his main concern, on my own, I booked a ticket, went down to the country he thought was the least safe, met with people from the firm, came back, and presented all the information and market research I'd gathered. I said, "Look, I went there and came back, and I'm OK." So he hired me, and I led that team to record profits.
What role do you think early exposure to resources and classes play? The importance of early exposure to STEM subjects cannot be overstated. There are key developmental milestones in a young girl's life and critical intervention points. By third grade, girls have formed their STEM identities -- that is, they develop an awareness of their level of interest and their feelings of confidence and competence in these subjects. This is a critical time when girls, unfortunately, start to pull away from STEM. In middle school, girls continue to lose interest in STEM, and in high school, only 16% of seniors are proficient in math and interested in STEM careers. This is a terrible waste -- for the girls and for our country.
To young women who hope to succeed in STEM, what advice do you have? One important piece of advice I like to give girls is this: the first person you have to convince about anything is yourself. Once you believe you can do something, no one can stop you. But you yourself have to believe it first. I fell in love with space and astronomy as a young girl, and my troop leader encouraged my interest, let me know that she believed in me. It was a great awakening for me. But it wasn't until I built an Estes rocket to earn my science badge -- after much trial and error! -- that I started to believe in myself. That was a real game-changer.