Women and STEM

“That’s not very lady-like.” While not intentionally offensive, to me that statement implies that there are things that a “lady” should not do. In general, this is referring to social behavior, but in the past it also referred to how women should be earning their livings and contributing to society. In this age, it would not be proper to imply that women are less capable or welcome in any field and yet we are not seeing the equal participation of women in high level roles in business or the Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) sectors.

There are two main factors in female participation in the STEM field. At a young age, many girls are made to feel that they are not “supposed” to enjoy or even excel in these subjects. Luckily, this has declined greatly in recent years, but even as few as 10 years ago girls were teased for participating in high level science or math competitions in high school, evidenced from personal experience and in films such as Mean Girls (“You can’t join Mathletes, it’s social suicide!”) A study cited by the American Association of University Women in their report titled, “Why So Few”, demonstrated how influential stereotypes can be by removing them. When students were told that girls and boys were equally apt at math, there was little to no difference in test scores by gender. Years of hearing a stereotype will lead people to follow it.

But the times are changing. Women now earn 41% of the Ph.D.s in STEM fields; unfortunately, they only make up 28% of the tenure-track faculty in those same fields. Once women receive the education in the STEM fields, they are not given the same recognition and salary as men. Even though 40% of men with STEM degrees work in the field, only 26% of women with the same degrees stay in the field. One major factor is the disparity between the salaries of men and women in STEM fields. Men earn 16% more per hour in STEM jobs than their female counterparts. This inconsistency is not the encouragement that women and girls need to continue in these fields.

The STEM fields are not the only culprits. In a recent report released by Calvert Investments, women are still underrepresented in the boardroom and management positions. Women are being hired in greater numbers but comprise only 19% of S&P 100 Board of Director Positions. While this is an improvement from recent years, there is still work to be done. Barbara J. Krumsiek, chair, president and CEO of Calvert Investments, Inc., stated: “S&P 100 companies deserve modest credit for taking positive steps in the last two years on diversity, but it is important to recognize that much hard work remains to be done. Absent a real push to put more women on boards and into executive suites, the progress on diversity will end up falling short of what needs to be done to achieve meaningful and lasting changes in corporate America, The bottom line here is very simple: Not only is this the right thing to do in terms of women and minorities, but it can also mean better returns for investors.”

This vacuum of female leadership shows how important campaigns, like the Women and the Green Economy (WAGE) campaign are. By looking at solutions to this issue from both the board room and classroom, we are able to find a way to address the problems that women and girls are facing with experience from those who have been able to overcome as well as girls who are currently forging ahead.