Women are told from a young age that men are better at math and science. Studies back up the claim that the majority of STEM positions are held by men. Despite women making up half of the global workforce and earning more college and graduate degrees than men, only 11% of all engineers are female, and only 29% of scientists in the biological, agricultural, and environmental life science workforce are full time female employees.

Who cares about the STEM sector of the economy? Why are there so few women in STEM fields? And, why does it matter how many women participate in this field? The answers might surprise you.

Why the STEM Sector is Important to the Economy

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics serve as the backbone of innovation and technological development around the globe. Specifically, in the US, STEM occupations are increasing at a rate of 17%, yet many of them are being left open. The simple reluctance of people to fill in these higher-skill level and better paying jobs is slowing down the economy.

Biases Against Women Joining the STEM Sector

Despite the obvious need for more employees to fill these jobs, studies consistently show a slew of biases directed at women aiming to join the STEM sector. Here are some of the most common ones:

“Cognitive Sex Difference” — The notion that men are somehow more capable of understanding math and science solely based on their sex has been widely proliferated yet disproven on multiple occasions.  The difference between average male and female scores on Advanced Placement tests in math and science subjects is never less than .5, and occasionally exactly the same.

Behavior Expectations — Competence, due to the first bias, is heavily associated with masculinity. Therefore, for women to be seen as proficient in STEM subjects, they must assume an air of “masculine intellect” (which has no meaning whatsoever). However, women are simultaneously expected to be feminine. It’s no surprise that finding a balance between these expectations can intimidate many women out of the field altogether.

Isolation — Associating with other women becomes impossible for women who are trained to believe that a large population of women aren’t competent. As a result, many female scientists have testified to living incredibly solitary lives due to their inability to socialize with female coworkers, especially scientists of racial minorities.

Why Women Benefit the STEM Sector

Stanford science historian Londa Schiebinger proposes that as more women assume careers in the sciences, new heights of research are reached, and more discoveries come more frequently. Higher levels of diversity in social identities (female, LGBTQ+, racial/ethnic minorities, etc.) spawn more creativity and bring different methods of viewing issues into scientific discussions, which allows for more opportunities to innovate.

Women also serve as phenomenal businesswomen and leaders. Recent studies concluded that companies with at least 3 women directors have a business return on sales of about 42%.  Companies with over 50% of leadership positions comprised of women had annual return rates of 28.7%; the rest of companies had merely 19.1%. Poll data showed that 55.1% women were seen as effective leaders, compared to only 51.3%.

Possible Solutions to Recruit More Women to STEM Jobs

By now, it’s become clear that women majorly contribute to society and the economy by joining the STEM sector. Now is the time to rethink the way schools, parents, administrations, and more encourage their women to develop their early math and science skills with a few suggestions:

Put More Women in Charge — Hiring women in leadership roles creates a positive feedback loop: women in leadership positions (ranging from teachers to CEOs to lead scientists) inspire and encourage more young women to be bold and aspire higher education/training to someday lead the same role. Women also hire more women, which exponentially increases the amount of women in the STEM sector.

Bridge the Pay Gap — How has society already reached 2016 and still failed to pay women the same as men??? Women only receive on average 79 cents to a man’s full dollar, regardless of whether they are more qualified or hardworking than the men with the same salary. Providing more opportunities for fairer and higher paying jobs will incentivize more women to accept and keep their STEM jobs.

Stop Discouraging Young Girls — Young people only develop interest in subjects where they believe they have higher chances at success. By reinforcing the idea that boys will always inherently be better than girls at math and science, society is doing itself a disservice in the long term.


[Image Attribute: George Joch]