Is the Leaky Pipeline for Women in STEM Being Fixed?

Women Make Up Just 26 Percent of STEM Employees; It's Time For Change

Is the Leaky Pipeline for Women in STEM being Fixed?
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Despite administration efforts, non-government initiatives and citizen action, gender bias is still prevalent today. Discrimination comes in many forms. It can range from unequal educational and employment opportunities to being judged on how you look. When it comes to such strong preconceptions, policies are often not enough to counteract the issue. 

Sexism in STEM

Women have historically been underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women constitute almost half of America’s workforce yet only 26 percent of STEM workers are women. 

Many jobs in STEM companies and organizations come with lucrative salaries and employee perks, which makes the gender gap even more alarming. Employment in STEM among younger women has shown little growth in recent decades. After graduating from universities, men are being employed at twice the rate of their female peers in STEM positions. 

Promoting Women in STEM

There are many females who have the potential to excel in STEM positions, yet they never make it there due to different barriers they encounter along their journey.  There is evidence the dropout begins in elementary school and goes all the way through to postdoc levels. Believing that there is a link between gender and the requirements of a certain job can be the start of gender segregation and contributes to the leaky pipeline model.

President Barack Obama has previously acknowledged the underrepresentation of women in STEM, and his campaign to encourage change “Educate to Innovate” received a lot of attention. The White House Council on Women and Girls is working towards increasing the presence of women in STEM and is supporting women through their academic and professional experiences.​ Moreover, there are many organizations that are now dedicated to encouraging women in STEM careers and are working towards maintaining opportunities for women in those positions.

Since STEM spans several disciplines, various organizations focus on different aspects of science all with the unified objective of closing the gender disparity gap. Here are just a few:

  1. National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is about improving how STEM subjects are taught at school and increasing interest in math and science among both genders. They recognize that by changing the way STEM is taught, they can get more children interested from an early age.
  2. Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is a strong partner for women in STEM. Their aim is to achieve equality and full participation of women in all disciplines. They have over 50 Chapters and Affiliate Groups. They can provide wide support, learning opportunities, resources and referrals. 
  3. Million Women Mentors (MWM) is a movement that is looking for one million mentors who will support girls throughout their education and help them reach STEM careers. To date, over 650,000 individuals have pledged to be mentors and the organization has over 46 corporate sponsors.
  1. American Association of University Women (AAUW) has been empowering women since 1881. They have a special interest in STEM education and are fighting the societal prejudice that women do not belong in STEM fields. AAUW is investing in STEM education and conducts studies on the barriers women face in these fields.
  2. The Scientista Foundation was started out of Harvard by two sisters who noticed that there was a lack of resources and community involvement among women in STEM. Scientista empowers pre-professional women in STEM. They are building a network of women in science by connecting communities at different campuses across the country. Also, they partner with some major organizations such as NASA and Microsoft.
  3. Fix the Leaky Pipeline is a program that offers young female scientists support in their careers. They work towards “fixing the leaky pipeline” and keeping women in these fields by offering opportunities for reflection, training and strategy building.

Also, many individuals and organizations have been pledging their support for the cause of increasing the amount of women in STEM positions. One example is the Kapor family of organizations, which in 2015 announced a $40 million investment towards initiatives that help ensure tech entrepreneurship is more inclusive. Mitch Kapor and his wife Freada want to close the opportunity gap and remove barriers to success so that a wider community of people can be represented in places like Silicon Valley.

Closing the Occupation Gap

The problem of sexism and STEM careers is very complex. Women need to be encouraged and supported when they choose a career in STEM. However, they also should not be prevented from pursuing jobs in traditionally feminine roles, such as nursing or teaching, if that is their passion. When these areas are looked at critically, field roles with a predominately female employee base often have relatively low salaries, whereas managerial roles are largely held by men and have relatively higher salaries.

Almost all would agree any employee should receive fair and equal compensation, and be rewarded equally for their contributions regardless of gender. Making sure lucrative STEM positions are available for anyone is a step in the right direction.  

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