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Closing the Gender Gap: The Rise of Women in STEM
In the last century, women have aggressively pursued education and careers outside the home. Though women have come a long way in their post-secondary education and career fields, there are still gender gaps in many areas in the workforce. One of the most significant gender gaps is in the STEM area; science, technology, engineering, and math.
There are needs and opportunities for women in the STEM fields, especially civil engineering. In America, women represent approximately 50% of the population. However, even though women make up 47% of the workforce, women only account for 24% of the STEM workforce. Within the STEM fields, there are areas heavy with female employees and areas that are lacking. Women represent 53% in the social sciences field and 51% of the biological and medical sciences. Meanwhile, women make up only 13% in the field of engineering and 26% in the computer and mathematical sciences fields.
The number of women who are earning or have earned a doctorate’s degree in the science and engineering fields has increased, men are still earning more doctorates than women are. In 1992, 17,821 men had earned a doctorate degree in engineering or math, while only 8,297 women had done the same. In 2013, 22,413 had earned a doctorate degree in the same fields, and 16,537 women had.
As there are in many fields across the board, women continue to be underpaid when compared to men of similar education, experience and positions. On average, men in the STEM fields earn $36.34 per hour while women only early $31.11 per hour. Not only are women’s salaries lacking, so is there recognition. The number of female Ph.D.s earning scholarly awards is only half o a quarter of men who earn similar recognition.
Although the total American workforce is comprised of 47% females, only 12% of those are civil engineers and just 8.3% are electrical or electronics engineers. In addition, only 19.2% of graduates that have earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering are women. Compared to other graduates, the class of 2014 had the highest average started salary at $64,891. However, only a mere 8.5% of members of this class who are working full-time in their primary area of study are women. Though, women who are working full-time in their primary area of competency have a median salary of $109,225.
Between 2010 and 2014 there was a 7% increase in the average growth of engineering jobs. Between 2012 and 2022, there is an expected growth rate of 20% in civil engineering. This opens the doors for many women to enter the field of civil engineering.
Many are left scratching their heads as to how we can help close this gender gap in the STEM fields. One suggestion is to offer an introductory course, either as an AP class in high school or in college, that will give females an overview of the ways engineering is applied in the real world. Another suggestion is to provide opportunities to build skills at any level of experience. Applying engineering concepts to community needs is yet another consideration to help increase female participation in the civil engineering workforce. In addition, providing opportunities for undergraduates to spend time with and observe successful women working in the STEM fields may also help, as well as emphasizing the social impact of engineering work. Even steps as simple as using gender-neutral everyday examples in engineering and promoting and maintaining a fair learning environment can also help level the playing field for women in civil engineering.
Some potential female engineers may find inspiration from women who have gone before them in this field. Early female engineers of note include Elsie Eaves, Beatrice Alice Hicks, and Emily Warren Roebling. Eaves was the first female member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1927. She also joined the Engineering and News-Record in 1926. She managed the construction industry’s planning that began when WWII ended. Hicks was one of only two women who graduated from the Newark College of Engineering in 1939. She was a co-founder of the Society of Women Engineers in 1950. Roebling was the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. She took this project over from her husband in 1872 when her husband fell ill with the bends.