Why Getting Women in STEM Matters

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Original article written April 12, 2012 by Amy Tennery for

Oh, the hours folks have dedicated to figuring out why women aren’t represented in science, technology, engineering and math— otherwise known as the “STEM” careers.

There’s ample data to show women are just as good — if not better — than men in the STEM career track. And some reports show that simple bias keeps even elementary school-age girls from advancing in math and science, putting the kink in the pipeline at the very earliest stage.

But here’s a question: Exactly why is it so crucial to get women into math and science in the first place? Gender diversity not good enough for you? You need practical reasons for this big STEM push? For the non-believers, a new report from the White House Council on Women and Girls provides some answers — and suggests that non-participation in STEM may be costlier than ever for women.

First, the basics: The report (which we found via U.S. News) shows that women make up just 25% of the STEM workforce. Overall, women make up about 47% of the total labor force, according to recent U.S. Labor Department data, so there’s your discrepancy.

But why does that matter? Why should we care about this disparity? Aside from the fact that we need as many smart, science-y people around as we can possibly get — which, actually, isn’t a bad reason. But let’s approach it from an ensuring-women’s-financial-future standpoint.

For starters — and this really isn’t a big shock — STEM is a growth industry. In fact, the White House Council report showed that it’s set to grow by about 20% in the next 10 years. So if we’d like women to have skilled jobs that might be available at some point in a decade’s time, we should probably shuttle them over that direction. That is, those of us who didn’t fight like hell to survive basic high school math. I’m not pointing fingers here… unless I’m standing in front of a mirror, in which case, I’m pointing fingers. Moving on.

In fact, there’s ample evidence to show that healthcare (i.e. doctors, i.e. science), research and tech are outpacing other careers by a long shot, as we can see from this chart from the BLS:

That giant blue bar at the top represents the kids who took AP Chem, who will be buying their first house before the rest of us pay off student loans. That second, smaller bar, would be all of the people doing scientific research and, generally speaking, saving the world. So, yes, the discrepancy is that big. A decade from now, that could translate to vastly greater job security — job security women won’t have unless they get the chance to move in the STEM direction.

And let’s also look at it from a financial standpoint. (After all, despite what some might say, women do care about making a living.) It turns out, despite their lack of representation, women in science, tech, engineering and math face less of a wage gap than their less technologically inclined peers. The report shows that women in STEM fields earn roughly 14% less than the guys, while ladies in non-STEM careers face a 21% gap. Yes, the gap still exists, but it’s a little better in STEM.

Of course, there are also lots of other reasons that STEM careers are advantageous for both men and women. Education Insider compiled a good list of STEM-pros, including high pay and job availability. But a cushy gig isn’t the bottom line. We’re in a transitioning economy, one in which STEM remains the brightest star. It’s not just a career opportunity — it may just become the career for women.


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