In our previous blog post, we defined the gender wage gap issue facing women in the workforce today and explored solutions for addressing this challenge. Equal pay is a necessity for communities to advance along with awareness of and access to skills for higher paying careers. As the STEM field continues to grow, we have an opportunity and responsibility to create employment pathways for more women and minorities that lead to the jobs of the future.
By 2018, an expected 2.4 million STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) jobs will go unfilled. Currently, women only hold 24% of STEM-related positions, though earning potential is much higher in those roles. On average, women in STEM earn 33% more than women in non-STEM occupations. Closing the gender gap in the STEM field can help connect millions of young women to high-quality jobs and create a strong economy. Overall, women in the STEM field experience a smaller wage gap earning $0.86 to every dollar earned by a man, as compared to women with master’s degrees working full time earning $0.72 for every dollar that men with master’s degrees earn.
Despite the higher return on investment, Hispanic and African American women continue to be widely underrepresented in the field. To tackle the disparity, we need to start by analyzing the root of the gap early on.
The Challenge in Education
According to Girls Who Code, in middle school, 74% of girls express interest in STEM subjects, but diverging interests become apparent as young women reach high school. In 2014, only 3% of young high school girls reported an interest in engineering compared to 31% of males. In the same year, just 2% of girls reported an interest in technology, compared to 15% of boys.
At the college level, although women account for 57.3% of all bachelor’s degrees earned, only a small portion of degrees are awarded in engineering (19.2%), computer sciences (18.2%) and physics (19.1%). Thirty years ago, about 37% of computer science degrees went to women, which uniquely points to a diminishing interest in STEM careers by women. Further analysis reveals that while people of color earn 18.3% of science and engineering degrees, less than 13% women of color earn degrees.
In 2009, working women in STEM continued to be underrepresented in the workforce with only 2.5 million college-educated women holding STEM degrees, compared to 6.7 million men. Prospects for women of color in the workforce were also lower as in 2013 only 2% (108,000) of African American women and 2% (114,000) of Hispanic women accounted for positions in the science and engineering field.
The Importance of an Inclusive STEM Workforce
To achieve economic and equity goals for the next generation, we need to excite young women about STEM as early as possible. This can be done a number of ways, such as encouraging a welcoming environment in STEM-related activities in school, exposure to female role models who have succeeded in the field, positive mentorship, and exposure to the career possibilities that science, technology, engineering and math skills can provide.
Young women also need to be encouraged to take on leadership positions. Gaining work experience early on can help build them with the confidence needed to negotiate equal pay across male dominated sectors. While employers continue to report a lack of talent in STEM fields, women hold the key to advance in these positions and secure their economic success.
Adding more women and minorities to the STEM talent pool is crucial to our economic future. With the U.S. composed of a significant proportion of minorities and 5.5 million opportunity youth, it would be both inefficient and wasteful to ignore this potential talent pool.