Women represent the majority of young university graduates, but are still under-represented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) fields. Worse, women’s progress in breaking into these fields has slowed down in recent decades.
Women’s share of computer jobs, which make up half of all STEM employment, has actually fallen since 1990. In 2011, women were 47 percent of mathematical workers, 41 percent of life and physical scientists, 27 percent of computer professionals, and 13 percent of engineers while making up 61 percent of social scientists.
And while women are under-represented among those who get STEM degrees — they are 53 percent of all college graduates but just 41 percent of those graduating from science and engineering programs — even those who do get degrees are less likely to end up in these jobs. As the report notes, “Among science and engineering graduates, men are employed in a STEM occupation at twice the rate of women,” 31 percent versus just 15 percent for women.
Women with these degrees are also more likely to be out of the workforce. Nearly 1 in 5 women with a science or engineering degree are out of the labor force, compared to less than 1 in 10 male graduates. This may have something to do with the strain of caring for a family and getting ahead, given that women are still considered to be the default caretakers. Women who are in STEM are less likely to have children at home than men: 62 percent of women had no children, compared to 57 percent of men. Children may not be getting in men’s way.
The women who stick it out in these jobs can also expect to be paid less. Women with a science or engineering degree working full-time make £30,000 a year compared to £40,000 for men. The gap narrows for those who work in a STEM job, but it doesn’t disappear.
Abbiss states that:
“The ubiquity of computers in everyday life has seen the breaking down of gender distinctions in preferences for and the use of different applications, particularly in the use of the internet and email.”
Both genders have acquired skills, competencies and confidence in using a variety of technological, mobile and application tools for personal, educational and professional use at high school level, but the gap still remains when it comes to enrolment of girls in computer science classes, which declines from grades 10 to 12 and to post-secondary level program options.
People of colour don’t fare any better in the STEM field. While black workers make up 11 percent of the overall workforce, they are just 6 percent of STEM workers. Hispanics similarly make up 15 percent of the workforce but 7 percent of STEM jobs. White workers, on the other hand, hold 71 percent of STEM jobs even though they make up 67 percent of the workforce. Women still struggle to enter many fields that have historically been dominated by men. In economics, or instance, they are just 12 percent of full professors. In finance, they make up just 20 percent of executive officers and less than a quarter of senior officers. Despite big gains, women are still just a third of the country’s lawyers and doctors.
And the pay gap follows them even when they enter these fields, which often pay more. Female doctors make £50,000 less than male ones. The top six jobs with the biggest pay gaps are in finance. Women make less than men straight out of college and no matter what job or industry they enter.
Over the past few decades, women have made significant advances in university participation, including program areas that had previously been more populated by men. One area, however, remains male-dominated: science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) degrees. And among women who choose to pursue a degree in STEM, most do so in biology or science programs, resulting in even fewer women in engineering, computer science and mathematics programs. These choices have consequences, as fields of study such as engineering and computer science lead, on average, to better outcomes in the labour market in terms of employment, job match and earnings.
For some, aptitude for a particular subject is a factor in university program choice. Although mathematical ability plays a role, it does not explain gender differences in STEM choices. Young women with a high level of mathematical ability are significantly less likely to enter STEM fields than young men, even young men with a lower level of mathematical ability. This suggests that the gender gap in STEM-related programs is due to other factors. Other possible explanations might include differences in labour market expectations including family and work balance, differences in motivation and interest, and other influences
Women are clearly capable of doing well in STEM fields traditionally dominated by men, and they should not be hindered, bullied, or shamed for pursuing careers in such fields. But we also should not be ashamed if our interests differ from men’s. If we find certain careers more intrinsically rewarding than men do, that does not mean we have been brainwashed by society or herded into menial fields of labour. Instead, we should demand that greater intrinsic and monetary compensation be awarded to the work we like and want to do.