Why Women in STEM Need to Step Up

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Men and women have near identical human capital to offer at college graduation; then what happens…

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Suggested STEM Careers for Young Women?

STEM Careers

1. Actuary
2. Aerospace Engineer
3. AI and Computer Scientist
4. Anthropologist & Archeologist
5. Astronaut
6. Astronomer
7. Biochemist & Biophysicist
8. Biomedical Engineer

Although there has been an increase in the number of women in STEM careers, there are still many challenges we face that can make it intimidating when considering a job after college. Women earned 53% of STEM college degrees in 2018, smaller than their 58% share of all college degrees. The gender dynamics in STEM degree attainment mirror many of those seen across STEM job clusters.

Even when women earn STEM degrees, their career choices and advancements can be limited by the obstacles they encounter in the workplace including difficulties getting promoted, high-profile assignments, training opportunities, and informal networks.

Three of the big challenges we face are:

1) Confidence
2) Lack of Mentorship
3) Understanding Salary

The Confidence Gap

The ‘confidence gap’ can steer some women out of engineering and computer science fields altogether, positioning them to make even less. Women who go into education, for instance, earn up to $20,000 less annually than they would as an engineer, Sterling says.

Unfortunately, however, when it comes to working in engineering and tech — fields that offer the fastest growing and highest-paying jobs open in new window — an entry-level salary for a man is more than $4,000 higher than what’s paid to a woman with comparable credentials. So begins a salary gap that only widens over time, shrinking women’s savings and extending their debt burden.

Stanford researchers who studied this disparity discovered that there is in fact one credential that separates these new hires: self-confidence. Where one candidate [male] guarantees he can prototype and problem solve, the second candidate [female] expresses her doubts. Perhaps a higher level of integrity in women is the stopping block to their own success in STEM careers.

Employers in engineering and computer science fields appear to offer higher starting salaries to applicants who present as self-assured, and those applicants are mostly men. This new research is the first to identify a link between confidence and a pay gap at the start of engineering and computer science careers.

The Benefits of Mentorship

Mentorship has been well-established in the literature as fostering scientific identity and career pathways for underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Mentorship is prioritized by programs that aim to increase diversity and support future leadership in STEM fields, but in-depth understanding of mentorship in these contexts remains limited.

According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise 43 percent of the U.S. workforce for scientists and engineers under 75 years old.

“I think the number one reason that women fall out of STEM is because they get in the workplace and find that it’s a very masculine-dominated field, and that there’s a lot of office politics to deal with,” says Khan, who adds that despite the number of women working in technical careers, very few of them hold senior-level positions within their respective industries. “Most of the tech leads in my office are men, and we have one head female software developer. That’s about it.”

If girls are exposed to strong, female STEM role models, a career in these fields will seem as attractive and attainable as any other. Mentorship can also increase self confidence, boost communication skills, and enhance leadership qualities that’ll benefit girls throughout their careers.

Gender Pay Gap in STEM Careers

Women and men have near-identical human capital at college exit, but cultural beliefs about men as more fit for STEM professions than women may lead to self-beliefs that affect pay. Overall, the results suggest that addressing cultural beliefs as manifested in self-beliefs—that is, the confidence gap commands attention to reduce the gender pay gap.

The median earnings of women in STEM occupations ($66,200) are about 74% of men’s median earnings in STEM ($90,000). The gender pay gap in STEM jobs has narrowed from 72% in 2016. The gender pay gap in STEM is wider than in the broader labor market, however. In 2019, the gender pay gap across all occupations was 80%.

Even when women earn STEM degrees, their career choices and advances can be limited by obstacles they encounter in the workplace, including difficulties getting promoted, high-profile assignments, training opportunities, and informal networks.

Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.

Stanford University study found that women earned $61,000 in their first jobs compared to $65,000 for men, despite having the same degrees and grade point averages.

Currently, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs. There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.

In the UK, STEM WOMEN states: “Since gender pay gap reporting became mandatory for large employers (over 250 staff) in 2017, the average gender pay gap for full time employees has steadily dropped over the years. However, for many STEM industries, the pay gap still remains worryingly high, highlighting that more must be done to reach pay parity.”

Women Leaders in STEM

1. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.
2. Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) was an American geneticist who discovered sex chromosomes.
3. Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was responsible for the discovery of the element protactinium and nuclear fission.
4. Katharine Burr Blodgett (1889-1979) was a noted physicist and inventor of ‘invisible glass.
5. Florence Seibert (1897-1991) was the American biochemist who developed the skin test for tuberculosis.
6. Cecilia Payne (1900-1979) British-born American astronomer who discovered that stars are made mainly of hydrogen and helium and established that stars could be classified according to their temperatures.
7. Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was contributor to computer programming, software development, and the design and implementation of programming languages.
8. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was a Chinese-American particle and experimental physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of nuclear and particle physics.

At the end of the day, we know that history shows that our world has enjoyed women leaders in STEM; this above short list goes back to the 19th century.

All women leaders in STEM industries must step up, reach out to colleges and universities and mentor our world’s girls wanting a STEM career; as well as, stand up for equal entry pay and equal promotion at any firm from inside their STEM career positions. Could the solution be that simple?

RELATED: The Biggest Barriers for Women in STEM

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