This is the first installment of my mini-series on women in science, technology, engineering & math (STEM). Having been female all my life and having earned an engineering degree a long, long time ago, I feel like a have a good basis for understanding the issues.
That, and I’m good at research :o).
There is so much data out there on this subject, it’s mind-boggling. So as I was sifting through it all, a plan emerged to take you, my reader, on a journey of a thousand girls from Anytown, USA to answer the question of why there are still so few women in STEM careers.
Stick with me, I’ll try to be gentle with statistics!
Let’s start with our pool of 1000 average girls aged 13-17 years old. According to research from the Girl Scouts of America, only 13% are considering STEM careers as their first choice. The news isn’t all grim though, because another study, this one by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) found that if teens have the benefits of STEM careers explained to them, 74% will now consider a STEM career. Those benefits included both economic benefits and the impact they can have on the world.
Regardless of how young women get there, an American Association of University Women study shows that 15.1% of female first-year college students intend to get a STEM degree.
Yikes! Our pool of 1000 women is down to 151 already.
A US Department of Education study picks it up from there. In the US, nearly half of students starting with a STEM intention do not earn a STEM degree. About one half drop out of college entirely, the other half changes their major to something non-STEM.
Oh boy…our pool is only 76 women now. But hey! they have their degree!
Don’t get too excited because now is when the statistics get alarming…
Fully 40% of women graduating with a STEM degree will never work in her degree field, or will quit within five years.
Good Lord! What is going on?
Turns out that 17% do leave for child-rearing purposes, but the majority choose other industries. For example, a biologist may choose to work at a hospital, putting her in the health care industry. Or an engineer may decide to become a math teacher instead.
Wow! That means only 30 women will make it to mid-career in her STEM profession.
A Forbes article that I read wants to place the blame on simply the fact that too few women are choosing a STEM career. The data I’ve presented is certainly proving that to be true. However, it is still only part of the story.
Here’s where it get’s downright ugly. A Harvard Business school study found that 50% of women will leave their STEM career after 15-20 years due to a hostile work environment
Now that is a crazy statistic that I just had to jump into. And I will. Next week!
No wonder there are so few women in tech and particularly in tech leadership. We lose them in high school, in college, after college, and now mid-career, too! Of the thousand girls/women we started with, only 15 are left to climb into senior leadership positions.
Wow! Just wow.
Next week, I’ll dive into what is meant by a hostile work environment and share some anecdotes that corroborate that 50% figure from my own research.
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: “I’m not weird. I’m a limited edition.”