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Women in STEM

STEM Initiatives (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)
“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”
- Marie Curie (1897-1956)

Interesting topic. There’s lots of information out about the “leaky STEM pipeline.” For those you that aren’t living and breathing this information, this means that although many young people get involved in math and science when they are young, that they have a tendency to drop out over the successive years. Those that actually graduate and then get into STEM careers is but a small portion of those that start out. You might say “So what? Lots of kids get involved with things when they are young and experiment and decide it isn’t for them. It’s a time during their life when they are supposed to be doing that.” The so what of that is this: even in this economy there are jobs that we are having a hard time filling, and those are primarily STEM jobs.

According to the NCES Digest of Education Statistics: Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, there were a little over 4 million ninth graders in 2001. Four years later, 2.8 million graduated with 1.9 million going on to a two-year or four-year college. Of those, only 1.3 million were actually ready for college work. Less than 300,000 chose to major in STEM fields, and of those only about 166,000 are expected to be STEM graduates in the class of 2011. 

Then, on top of that we have the gender dilemma.  This quote from Why So Few, (www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/whysofew.pdf) a report prepared by the American Association of University Women, says it better than I can. “The number of women in science and engineering is growing, yet men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professions. In elementary, middle, and high school, girls and boys take math and science courses in roughly equal numbers, and about as many girls as boys leave high school prepared to pursue science and engineering majors in college. Yet fewer women than men pursue these majors. Among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to say that they intend to major in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). By graduation, men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, and in some, such as physics, engineering, and computer science, the difference is dramatic, with women earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Women’s representation in science and engineering declines further at the graduate level and yet again in the transition to the workplace.”

Turns out that this study showed that there is still a very strong stereotype at work that says that boys are better than girls at math and science. Its at the middle school where gender differences in self-confidence in STEM subjects begins to show itself and continues to increase from there forward. Another report (http://www.socwomen.org/socactivism/stem_fact_sheet.pdf) shows that the classroom climate for girls in school and women students and faculty at universities has been described as chilly. There is a lack of role models in the field. Men hold 73% of all jobs in Science and Engineering sector, compared to 27% for women. Salary differences and low status are also contributing factors, as are issues related to work-life balance.

It becomes apparent that there is no single, simple solution. Work to change this situation will need to occur at all the leaky points. Just like it taking a whole village to raise a child, it will require the entire pipeline and workplace to repair the leaks.

To learn how to become involved in the program as an employer, mentor, advisory council member, or on STEMPower.org, contact STEM Coordinator odenl@worcesterma.gov . Mid-Massachusetts STEM Pathways Initiative is sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. The program is an equal opportunity program.

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