Breaking the STEM Gender Gap

The National Science Foundation has estimated that roughly five percent of the workforce is engaged in STEM related jobs, a relatively small vital sector in our economy.  Historically, these fields have been dominated by men.  The gap however, is rapidly closing.

Almost thirty years ago, there was a 13:1 boy to girl ratio for gifted 12-14 year olds who scored 700 on the SAT math exam, today it is closer to 3:1.  This is one of the many examples that a recent study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) entitled “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” demonstrates.

With women obtaining only 20 percent of the STEM related degrees issued, the study shows that early education must support and continually encourage girls in math and science.  The study argues that, “[…] believing in the potential for intellectual growth, in and of itself, improves outcomes,” specifically in the early stages of cognitive development.  Improvements in education and tackling social taboos have seen high school females surpassing their male peers in both science and technology grade point averages.

The STEM workforce is also changing, but disparities continue. For example, while women represent about 53 percent of biologists, only 10 percent of civil engineers are women.  In response, colleges have changed course descriptions and the number of female faculty members has increased, as have tenure levels.

Independent groups are helping to empower females and to break barriers as well.  The HerWorld program, which has teamed with DeVry University, runs a forum to encourage girls to explore STEM careers.  As of now, over 7,200 high school girls in over fifty locations take part in the career development seminar and activities in the hopes of “opening the door to exciting STEM career opportunities that they may never have imagined possible.”

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: AAUW, Cognitive Daily, Devry, SentinelSource

Photo Credit: math problems for girls Courtesy of flickr user woodleywonderworks

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