Four Reasons Women Aren’t Succeeding in STEM

In the past few years there has been a significant push to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in STEM.  From White House initiatives to non-profits, it seems like closing the gender gap is finally becoming a national priority.

And rightly so, according to the Economics & Statistics Administration women make up nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. economy but only about 25 percent of STEM jobs.  This remains consistent, even as more college-educated women enter the workforce.  In fact, the number of women in computer science has actually decreased since 1991.

Women in STEM earn about 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs.  The gender wage gap in STEM is significantly smaller than in other fields.  So why aren’t more women succeeding in STEM?

The Harvard Business Review highlighted four biases that are keeping women out.  Through in-depth interviews with 60 female scientists and a survey of 557 female scientists, researchers think they are closing in on the problem.

Pressure to Prove Yourself 

Of those surveyed, two-thirds reported a significant pressure to prove themselves in the workplace over and over again.  This phenomena has been the subject of social psychology, but this is the first instance of real women confirming this as their experience.

Masculine vs Feminine

Women in the workplace are forced to inhabit a duality — behave in masculine ways to appear competent while acting feminine to be likable.  Of those surveyed, more than a third said they feel pressure to act “feminine” to be likable.  Around half of the women said they have received backlash for exhibiting traditionally masculine behaviors, like being direct, decisive and outspoken.

Starting a Family

Nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed said their professional lives changes drastically after having children.  Not because of the added responsibly of starting a family, but rather because of how their colleagues began to view them.  Women with kids found their commitment and competency coming into question.  Co-workers and managers began assuming they would lose their passion and drive after having children.

The “Woman’s Spot”

Discrimination in the workplace is also turning some women against each other.  Studies show that woman who have dealt with adversity and discrimination often avoid professional relationships with other women.  Many woman report feeling they are competing for “the woman’s spot” in organizations that are mostly male.

Initiatives to close the gender gap often focus on building the STEM pipeline or point fingers at personal choices, but if this study is any indicator, the real problem is actually gender bias.

So the real questions is: how do we make sure women are being accepted in the STEM community and workplace?

Sources:

http://www.esa.doc.gov/reports/women-stem-gender-gap-innovation

https://hbr.org/2015/03/the-5-biases-pushing-women-out-of-stem

Alexa Chrisbacher is the Director of Public Relations at Stem Match, a social media platform for the STEM community.  She is also pursuing an MFA at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.  Connect with Alexa at stemmatch.net.