Why The Gender Gap In STEM Fields Still Exists

Women make up roughly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, yet comprise only about 25 percent of American STEM workers — numbers that have even stagnated in recent years. Although some might claim this under-representation is due to a lack of academic accomplishment, women actually earn 41 percent of all STEM PhD degrees. So where's the disconnect?

The real problem seems to be what happens after graduation: Women don’t always choose to go into, or stay in, STEM careers. Women are statistically more likely than men to leave a career in science, technology, engineering, or math within one year of employment — nearly half of all women leave their STEM careers within months of starting, according to one study. As a result, women are consistently underrepresented in these fields. While certain companies have implemented programs to help balance this gender gap, a number of other factors must be addressed for women to reach parity in the field.

First, women in STEM — like many other women in male-dominated professions — face lingering "old boys' club" attitudes, which can be isolating. Many women in the field have reported having negative experiences with the “Lab Coat Culture” in science, “Hard Hat Culture” in engineering, and tech’s “Geek Workplace Culture.” These culturally biased environments often make female employees feel out of place, which might in turn encourage them to abandon their profession.

In addition to this implicit discrimination, many women in the field also believe they have received biased evaluations from upper management. One study found that 72% of U.S. women experienced this, and another study of tech companies’ performance reviews noted that 88 percent of women received critical feedback on their evaluations, versus only 59 percent of men.

Furthermore, the criticism female employees faced was less constructive and more personal. For example, one woman’s performance review stated, “You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t need to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.” As Fortune reported, “this type of character critiques absent from men’s reviews showed up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.”

These experiences lead women in the field to seriously doubt whether or not they have opportunities to advance. Even though an overwhelming majority of women in STEM are eager to obtain upper management positions in their firms, the lack of senior leadership in STEM companies across the U.S. contributes greatly to women's decisions to leave the industry. As Facebook engineering director Jocelyn Goldfein told Fast Company. “There reason there aren’t more women computer scientists is because there aren’t more women computer scientists.”

What's more, while the gender pay gap exists in nearly every industry in the U.S., research from Glassdoor reveals that in certain STEM professions, men can make as much as 28.3 percent more than their female coworkers. While there are a variety of reasons that this gap might exist, Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, tells the Los Angeles Times that the simple answer is bias in the workplace.

"My view is that in heavily male-dominated fields, the people who are making the decisions about pay and promotion are disproportionately men, and that can play a role in why we're seeing gaps in male and female pay," he said. "It's not the case in every one of these occupations, but it's the case in these tech fields."

Of course, some tech companies are trying to do better. The tech company Alibaba, for example, has a workforce that is 40 percent female as well as 34 percent of the senior management positions held by women. But this company is the exception rather than the rule. Especially considering America's impending STEM shortage, it's crucial to recruit and retain women in the field and ultimately minimize the sexism that persists within it.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Misogyny, Science and tech
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Gender bias, Women's leadership



Danika K
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