STEM refers to the group of academic disciplines including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Examples of STEM are:
Women are represented far less in technical occupations than men. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), in 2015, the percentage of computing occupations held by women was three times less than that of the male representation in STEM.
The article goes on to break down the 25% of women in STEM occupations by race. 16% of the 25% are white women, 5% are Asian women, 3% are African American, and 1% are Latina/Hispanic. The underrepresentation of women in STEM is due to a variety of contributors from biases to underlying feelings of discouragement toward earning a master’s in data science or other in-demand, tech-oriented degrees.
What Issues Do Women in STEM Face?
There is an array of barriers that women in STEM face from educational opportunities to occupational prospects. According to the same study by NCWIT, the number of women in STEM has been at a constant rate of decline since 1991 from a high of 36% to 25% in 2015. In order to make changes, it becomes necessary to be aware of the challenges that women in STEM face.
- STEM environment challenges: Numerical underrepresentation and negative stereotypes can discourage women by creating an unapproachable and toxic environment. This type of environment can seem exclusive, or not attainable to outsiders that are just as (if not more) qualified. Being seen as — and feeling like — a minority can be socially isolating as well. According to an article written on sexual harassment in STEM, “Women in STEM endure the highest rate of sexual harassment of any professional outside of the military.” The article goes on to say that nearly 50% of women in the sciences experience sexual harassment in comparison to 16% of men who experienced sexual harassment.
- Structural and interpersonal challenges: Again, the representation of female mentors is lesser than males in STEM education. With fewer women employed within STEM as their male counterpart, comes less availability for female mentorship and encouragement from someone who has faced similar issues. Aside from gender work discrimination during the hiring process, there are reports of being given lower-paying positions, being held to different standards, condescending speech, or even being rejected for a job or promotion entirely.
- Sense of self challenges: When the challenges above have become so prevalent, the way that women can feel about their personal and professional identity can be psychologically deterring. Gender biases and stereotyping can feel unfair and undesirable — enough so to create the margin in the representation of women in STEM.
Why Women Should Pursue STEM Careers
As stated by Sheryl Sanberg, “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” Diversity in the workplace offers benefits in a variety of different ways, such as:
- Diverse perspectives inspire creativity and drive innovation.
- Specific market knowledge helps businesses develop a competitive edge.
- Insight into a variety of demographics, cultures, genders creates the ability to offer improved quality services and products by broadening the horizon.
- Diverse teams increase productivity.
- Diverse workplaces offer greater opportunity for personal, as well as professional growth.
Closing the Gender Gap
The simple truth about the gender pay gap lies within the statistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women’s median earnings lie at $45,097 in 2018 in comparison to the male median of $55,219. As the number of women awarded a STEM degree has risen over the years, the gender gap for women in STEM remains since the number of men participating in STEM programs is much higher. There are certain things that can be implemented in order to close the gender gap and promote equality in STEM. These are ideas such as:
- Combat sexism in STEM: When sexism arises, squash the behavior (whether that means directly in a confrontational manner, or speaking with HR in the workplace).
- Highlight women in STEM: Promote the achievements of women in STEM. Celebrate achievements and encourage and praise their work and contributions to the industry. Talking about achievements makes it clear to individuals that all types of people make important contributions within all types of industries.
- Encourage young women in STEM: Educators and parents should encourage young women to partake in STEM. In doing so, we fight sexism and stereotypes that may be created within their lives. Offer after school programs and praise achievements within STEM topics in education.
Groundbreaking Women of STEM
There are specific women that have paved the way for the future of women in STEM. While this doesn’t mean that all the barriers that women face in STEM have been eliminated, they’re influential leaders that inspire many. As the saying goes, empowered women empower women. Below are four women in data science who promote women in STEM and openly share advice on taking risks and building inclusivity.
Claudia Perlich is an advisor at Dstillery that focuses on design, development, analysis and optimization surrounding digital advertising. She has earned a multitude of awards for her innovative mind. Perlich is also known as influential for women in STEM due to her scientific articles and her active industry speaking. Perlich also created “The Ella Project,” which was designed to promote the success of women and to give girls inspiration to reach for their goals and achieve success.
Dr. Jennifer Priestley
Doctor Jennifer Priestley is an associate dean of the Graduate College at Kennesaw State University as well as the executive director of the school’s Analytics and Data Science Institute. Priestley has received a multitude of scientific awards and praise for her accomplishments in data science and supervised the launch of the first data science masters program. Now there are a variety of great master’s programs in data science. Priestly publically advocates for women in STEM via video blogs and through various articles. For example, she writes articles such as “What Is the Best Way To Get More Women into Analytics? Don’t Make Them into Men.”
Lillian Pierson is the CEO of Data-Mania LLC, and she is also a published author that focuses primarily on topics surrounding data science and big data. Pierson has focused and honed in on training professionals on understanding and developing data skills. Pierson has written many articles, such as “Women In Tech: Tech Training and Tremendous Opportunities” that advocates not only for the push of women in STEM, but also adequate training opportunities and action rather than talk.
Sarah Aerni is the director of data science and analytics at Salesforce. She has held many positions — and served on committees — surrounding bioinformatics, computational biology, machine learning, human disease and biology surrounding aging. Aerni has spoken at many conferences and offered discussion meet-ups surrounding women in STEM with a focus on career pathways. Aerni is also the finance and sponsorship chair for Women in Machine Learning, which focuses on:
- Increasing the number of women in machine learning.
- Helping women in machine learning succeed professionally.
- Increasing the impact of women in machine learning in the community.
Resources For Women in Stem
- American Association of University Women: AAUW is a nonprofit that promotes equity for women through advocacy, education and research.
- Association for Women in Science: AWIS is an organization that combats job discrimination, lower pay and professional isolation that women face
- Million Women Mentors: MWM is an organization that aims to spark the interests of girls and women interests in STEM by encouragement through mentorship.
- National Girls Collaborative Project: NGCP works to bring together organizations that are available throughout the U.S. in order to inform and encourage young girls (as well as women) to pursue STEM careers.
- Women in Engineering ProActive Network: WEPAN aims to leverage research and best practices to promote the inclusion of women within the field of engineering.
STEM Scholarships for Women
There are a variety of degrees available — traditional science degrees and online science degrees — with a variety of scholarships specific to women. These include:
- Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize: This scholarship is awarded to an undergraduate woman for their excellence in the world of mathematics. The amount is $1,000.
- Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance: This organization offers a variety of scholarships for females interested in Aviation. Amounts and qualifications vary.
- Aysen Tunca Memorial Scholarship: This is a merit-based scholarship for female undergraduate students seeking STEM field majors. The amount is $2,000.
- Center for Women in Technology: There are various scholarships offered by major for women in STEM. Amounts and qualifications vary.
- Girl Scouts of the USA: This organization offers a variety of scholarships in a variety of states. Amounts and qualifications vary.
- Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship: This scholarship is intended for female seniors within their undergraduate or female graduate students with a 3.5 GPA in computer science or computer engineering majors. The amount is $10,000.
- Society of Women Engineers: SWE offers nearly 1 million dollars in various scholarships every year (totaling 260 individual scholarships) to those who identify as female/woman.