Gender diversity is still a work in progress for most industries (particularly when it comes to pay disparities and hiring for executive or leadership roles), but some are further along than others. One field that still has a significant gap between men and women is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Although more women are studying and graduating in STEM fields than ever, more men are also choosing those fields—keeping the gap very much alive.
Here’s why STEM careers should attract more women, and how women can take advantage of those opportunities.
STEM is a major growth area
While some industries are facing job shortages or lack of opportunities, STEM jobs are still growing at a crazy rate. The focus on technology and innovation is creating new avenues and opportunities for those with the skills and education to meet the demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations are expected to grow by 8% by 2029—while all other jobs are expected to grow by 3.7%. Few fields are expected to explode at that rate. That’s a huge surplus of jobs available for the taking.
Fixing the education gap is key
One of the most common barriers to a career in STEM is that it often requires advanced education, skills, and training just to get in the door. Such skills and training often aren’t available to people from lower-income backgrounds or people who don’t have the flexibility or resources to attend a STEM-dedicated college or university program. Although traditional standardized math and science testing comes out fairly equally between women and men, people from higher-income households perform significantly better—closing the door early for many students who might otherwise be interested in STEM. This means that there’s a significant need for minority women especially if the field is going to move closer to representing society as a whole
Early intervention seems to be the key. Math and science support for female students at every school level can help ensure that women stay the course and ultimately get to the surplus of STEM jobs.
Women in STEM boost the global economy
Few industries have global reach as broad (or with as many economic implications) as STEM industries—especially technology. According to research by McKinsey, job equality between women and men could add as much as $12 trillion to the global economy. With STEM jobs making up so much of current and future job growth, it shows how reaching gender parity in STEM stands to benefit everyone involved.
Small changes in the workplace can mean big things for women in STEM
Things you may not even think about can actually limit the number of women who want to enter (and succeed in) a particular field. For example, a recent study found that women performed better on math and verbal tasks when a room’s temperature was warmer, while men performed better on the same tasks when the temperature was cooler. Something as minor as raising the temperature can mean that women achieve better than they might otherwise. Is room temperature the sole reason more women aren’t in STEM? No. But it is an example of how women’s needs are often not considered or prioritized when the workplace is developed.
In a more STEM-specific example, most companies’ safety equipment is designed for the average man. That means the same equipment is often ill-fitting (and thus not as effective) for women, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Investing in better-designed personal safety equipment (PPE) creates a more welcoming, safe environment for women alongside their male colleagues.
In short, STEM fields often aren’t particularly welcoming for women right off the bat, and it makes it a challenge to both attract and keep qualified women in the industry.
Recruiting and advocacy are a solution in the meantime
Education and early intervention are key ways to get young women to go into the right programs. But what if you’re a woman who has the right skillsets or education now? How do you find the right opportunities for your career? Specialized job sites are a good place to start. There are also organizations out there that provide support and resources, like Women in STEM and the Stem2D initiative. Networking is one of the best ways to find and develop career opportunities in a field traditionally dominated by men.
STEM is an area of incredible potential for people of all kinds, but with a gender gap of 72% male to 28% female, it has even more potential for women to move in, grow, and start changing the face of these crucial careers.