Gender Gap in STEM Fields Persist

As the economic forecast grows increasingly dim, bolstering our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is more critical than ever. STEM jobs and innovations keep our country on the forefront of global competitiveness, but women are still vastly underrepresented in the fields, despite the fact that they make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce.

The authors of a new report say the gap leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

According to the report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, but they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.

Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs – considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.

The report further found that women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering, and women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation – they’re more likely to work in education or healthcare.

The report said factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs could include a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields, but that regardless of the reasons, more must be done to encourage girls and women to study and enter the field.

“While young girls’ interest in the physical and life sciences is growing; growth is particularly stagnant in engineering, and students pursuing engineering careers as a whole have declined,” says National Education Association Senior Policy Analyst Mike Kaspar. “NEA and educators are supporting the common core standards and assessments both to better prepare students for the challenges of the mathematics required in engineering careers and to create more positive experiences in math.  NEA recommends a greater collaboration between classroom teachers, support professionals, and school counselors to best meet the needs of students.” (Read more about NEA’s involvement in the common core standards.)

This month’s report is part of a series coming from the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration. Last month, the department issued a report, “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future.” That report found that over the past decade, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs.

“Given the high-quality, well-paying jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” the report concludes, “there is great opportunity for growth in STEM in support of American competitiveness, innovation and jobs of the future.”