Women now make up 45.8 percent of the professional U.S. workforce. Unfortunately, while many strides have been taken to integrate women into a broad range of professional occupations, the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) still hold significant gender gaps.
But diversity fosters development in every work environment.
“Diversity is at the core of innovation. Not just gender diversity, but diversity of thought,” said Joe Vacca, chief marketing officer of Revature, a leading technology talent development company.
“It is imperative that we close the gender gap in technology.”
Overall, women earn 57 percent of the college degrees, but the tech world is still very much a boys’ club.
The problem lies in the social barriers that push women away from participating in STEM. An overwhelming 65 percent of STEM degrees are earned by men.
Despite current efforts to encourage women to join STEM fields, there is still a huge gender gap in both academic enrollment and hiring.
How women are discouraged
Societal issues are mostly to blame. Women are pushed away from interest in STEM fields from a young age, and the larger the gender disparity, the higher the chances are of women experiencing bias and sexual harassment in the workplace.
It is easy for women to feel isolated and lonely in STEM fields. Because it has always been dominated by men, there are very few female role models for young girls with an interest in STEM to look up to.
This is even more true for women of color.
Another problem lies in the unconscious bias of recruiters.
One study shows that men are twice as likely to be hired for a job involving math, solely based on appearance.
Another study showed when science faculty from research universities were given applications with randomly assigned male or female names, they identified the male applicants as “significantly more competent and hireable.” The gender of the faculty members didn’t make a difference. Even female faculty members were also unconsciously discriminating against female applicants.
How can women be encouraged to join STEM?
In an effort to diversify, many universities and institutions are actively working to develop methods to bridge the gender gap in STEM.
Last year, Revature announced its extension of its strategic partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) to include Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY), a partnership between Cornell Tech, CUNY and leading tech companies like Verizon and Accenture, so they can work together on multiple initiatives designed to include more women in technology.
“Our mission is to create the next generation of female software engineers,” said Vacca.
The company partners with universities to catapult thousands of young women into a career in technology.
“We provide enterprise level training that will allow these women to accelerate their career in technology while also making deep connections with the leading women in technology, who will be providing them with career advice,” said Vacca.
Dartmouth College has developed the Women in Science Project, which gives freshman women the unique opportunity to work for professors in labs.
The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) believes the most effective way to recruit Women into STEM is to attract them when they are young, so it developed the WISE Community Outreach program, which connects UCI students and faculty to K-12 students in the Chicago area.
The program is geared to encourage young people, no matter the gender, to become interested in STEM fields by giving them tours of labs, providing hands-on experience and more.
A branch of the project, called WISE Girls, is specifically geared towards eliminating the stigma of STEM being a boys-only field.
Ohio State University has had a long history of trying to integrate STEM fields. In 1979, the university started the Women in Engineering (WiE) program. In its 39-year history, the program has partnered with many corporations, faculty, students, alumni and organizations to try to increase the amount of women in engineering.
In 2012, Howard University started the Advance-IT program, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, to increase the number of women faculty in STEM.
In 2015, Google pledged to invest $150 million in diversity. Other tech giants, such as Apple, Twitter and Facebook followed suit.
Just having female role models at universities can make a huge difference.
At Duquesne University, the head of physics and nearly half of the faculty in the department are women. In spring of 2015, half of the graduating class in the Duquesne physics department were women. In contrast, the national average of women graduating with physics degrees stood around 20 percent.
A recent Southern Methodist University (SMU) study proved that female college students were more likely to consider majoring in economics when exposed briefly to inspiring and charismatic women in the field.
“Young women need and want to interact with successful and charismatic female role models who could tell them about their study choices and subsequent career experiences,” said Danila Serra, assistant professor of economics at SMU and lead author of the study.
Despite recent efforts to integrate, STEM fields are still dominated by men. The gender gap, which limits creativity and innovation, is a significant concern, so it is critical that universities, organizations, companies and individuals work tirelessly to bridge the gap.
Because women still only make up one-quarter of STEM workers in the United States, the issue is of immediate concern.