Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Where are the Women?

By Delphi CleavelandPublished March 14, 2015

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Women remain illusive in the STEM workplace, currently the fastest growing field of innovation and labor on the planet. The United States continues to fall behind in global rankings and soon 80% of jobs will require technological skills. Will they be able to solve the problems of work place biases and gendered expectations?
Women remain vastly outnumbered to men in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM fields. Today, women participate at almost even rates to men in the national workforce, yet they make up a mere 24% of STEM jobs. In the next decade it is estimated that up to 80% of jobs will demand skills in math, science, and technology.  Thus eliminating the deterrents that currently exist beginning in early childhood and follow women into their workplace occupations can reap nationwide benefits. Until women are equally as welcomed into the STEM fields, a gap in innovation potential will exist in the American workplace.

Currently, not enough girls are encouraged in childhood to pursue interests in STEM. While boys are given building blocks and remote control cars, girls are typically given dolls and dress ups. The messages these small gestures impart on young minds, remain latent in individuals throughout their lives. Recently, Verizon Wireless launched an initiative using the hashtag #inspirehermind, that introduced this idea of gender expectations, and the effects these have on the minds of children. The campaign gives examples such as, changes in dress up clothing —instead of the gender-coded princess, maybe a spacesuit for an astronaut; and encourages girls' confidence to participate in class, once they begin school.

The White House recently partnered with a number of academic institutions to obtain a clearer picture regarding the presence of female STEM students in both grade-school and thereafter. Studies reflected, 66% of 4th grade girls reported liking math and science yet in college only 18% of engineering majors are women. Similarly, while women comprise 57% of the college student population, only 19% of these women are computer majors. Much of the discrepancy in these percentages is attributed to the culture of these majors in colleges and universities today. They are havens of "bro-grammers" and departments of solely male professors. A need for diversity in the field can have two benefits, of both diversification and increased brainpower.

The STEM workplace is also a hazardous place for women. Studies have been conducted at Stanford involving identical applications posed to a collection of STEM related jobs, in which one application was labeled John and the other Jennifer. The results of the study reflected astonishing prejudice, and preference for the male candidates. Allegedly the culture of the "bro-grammer" prevails even after higher education. Employers and hiring managers must begin to look outside of typical hiring methods and resources in an effort to diversify their company's team and foster cultures inclusive and supportive of women workers.

NASA recently released a guide to its promises and administrative practices to women working in STEM fields. The organization, reviewed its actions under Title IX compliance the promotion of women in STEM. A few of the programs the organization found to be most effective included, K-12 outreach; publicly displaying a program's gender diversity through communications material to enforce welcoming and inclusive work environments; the promotion of education and awareness opportunities regarding harassment and bias and procedures to address such concerns; and finally the use of climate surveys and periodic reviews, broken down by gender, of critical processes such as admissions, recruitment, qualifying examinations, and programs policies. Under these practices, NASA urges other STEM organizations to take similar or equal measures to ensure further gender equality in their field.

The United States has fallen far behind its international competition in math and science test scores among high school students —ranked 36th in math and 18th in science. To lawmakers and caretakers alike, these rankings should be a motivational indication that the present situation needs to addressed and altered. Furthermore the perpetuation of these barriers for women, plays into the furthering of the gender wage gap, as USA reported recently that engineering, computer science, and math and science careers are the highest paying degrees of 2015. Welcoming girls and women into the STEM fields, increases the capacity for innovation and equality. By welcoming women into STEM the United States is unleashing potential of immeasurable magnitude in addressing the challenges of our future.

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