Of the nearly 1.5 million women in the field in 2019, 57% were white women, 24% were Asian women, 11% were African American and 8% were 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. 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.
Structural and interpersonal challenges: Again, the representation of female mentors is lesser than males in STEM education. Fewer women employed within STEM compared to their male counterparts means 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: The way that women can feel about their personal and professional identity can be psychologically deterring when the challenges above have become so prevalent. Gender biases and stereotyping can seem 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 Sandberg, “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 and 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 and professional growth.
Closing the Gender Gap in STEM
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 $50,982 in 2020 in comparison to the male median of $61,417. 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 ideas include:
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.
Famous Women in 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 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.
Lillian Pierson is the CEO of Data-Mania, LLC and a published author who focuses primarily on topics surrounding data science and big data. Pierson focuses on training professionals to develop and understand data skills. She 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 dealing with bioinformatics, computational biology, machine learning, human disease and the 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 boosting the number of women in machine learning, helping women in machine learning succeed professionally, and raising the impact of women in machine learning in the community.
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 in an undergraduate program or female graduate students with a 3.5 GPA in computer science or computer engineering majors. The amount is $10,000.