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The Bright Future for Women in STEM is Now

Women have made huge progress in the professional ranks of fields ranging from medicine to law to business. Yet in the areas of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM), women remain stubbornly stuck behind their male counterparts.

Women are vastly underrepresented when it comes to STEM jobs and degrees, despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) report. The report concluded that women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering, and they are less likely to work in a STEM occupation than their male counterparts.

Though jobs are often still hard to come by for many in the US, American companies cannot find enough workers to fill all the available STEM positions, according to the Brookings Institution.

So despite a documented need, there is an alarming scarcity of women even able to fill important STEM roles in the professional world. As this problem continues to gain attention, there is now a significant push to get women of all ages interested in STEM fields.

The Factors Creating the Lag

Several factors continue to plague women’s ability to rise up the ranks of the STEM fields. The gap in pay, the bias in education and the bias in the workplace continue to be some of the most prominent hurdles.

According to the ESA report, on average, women earn 14 percent less than men. For every dollar earned by a man in STEM, a woman earns 14 cents or $36.34 and $31.11 respectively per hour.

Bias and stereotypes hinder women’s interest in these fields and their aspirations to pursue such careers. A recent study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that stereotypes and biases regarding women in STEM fields continue to dominate academic and professional culture. Women of all ages are negatively impacted by stereotypes related to STEM fields; such stereotypes have a measurable impact on lower test scores and fewer aspirations related to science and engineering over time.

The report also noted that even when girls reached similar levels of math achievement as their male counterparts, they tended to rate themselves lower. Since there is still a common association that science and math are “male” oriented fields, the ESA report claims that women are less likely to cultivate their own interests in STEM fields.

The findings of these studies show evidence of how important it is to encourage women to pursue the STEM fields. Considering the need and the opportunity, the moment has never been more fruitful to cultivate support for women in these important jobs of the future.

Women in Stem

Despite the obstacles in entering the field, there are many women who are responsible for groundbreaking work in their disciplines that are now paving the way for women to come.

The L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO recently announced their laureates for the 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards. Their work marks some of the most promising and exciting science happening in the world.

Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke of the University of Nigeria was honored for her  contributions to the understanding of ion currents in the upper atmosphere that have helped further the understanding of climate change. Deborah Jin, professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder was honored for having been the first scientist to cool down molecules in an effort to observe chemical reactions in slow motion to further understanding of molecular processes important for medicine and new energy sources. Professor Marcia Barbosa at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil was honored for discovering one of the peculiarities of water, which may lead to better understanding of how earthquakes occur and how proteins fold in the treatment of diseases.

The National Science Foundation helped created The Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics radio station and website  through the WAMC/Northeast Public Radio public radio station, which features stories on women working in STEM fields throughout the U.S. and was designed to broaden participation of women in STEM fields.

The work of these women represent just a few who are making major strides in the name of science, but also for women in STEM fields everywhere. Encouraging and supporting the effort of women in STEM is important for American innovation and competition in the global economy. As more young girls and women enter these important fields, today’s leaders will need to focus on providing the right environment and opportunities in the classroom and workplace.

Additional Resources

The following websites are new programs designed to promote women in STEM and represent a wave of energy and ideas geared towards motivating women to become interested in these technical fields.

Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programs give high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops. Programs include online classes, camps, games and education tools.

Women’s TechConnect (WTC) brings together professional women with college-educated young women in the developing world and women IT professionals in the humanitarian sector, to support career development, confidence-building and success in the technology industry through an online-mentoring program.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has become a visible force for professional women by administering over one-half million dollars in scholarships each year.

November 12th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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