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Closing the Gender Gap: The Rise of Women in STEM
Although women have made inroads into many fields and industries traditionally dominated by men, men still dominate the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries. Even in a developed country such as the US where women constitute 50% of the population and 47% of the workforce, only 24% work in STEM fields. This notwithstanding, 53% of women in STEM fields hold social science related jobs, whereas 51% hold biological and medical sciences jobs. On the other hand, only 26% of women have computer and mathematical sciences expertise, whereas 13% have an engineering background. These figures show that majority of women in STEM fields have a background in social, biological and medical sciences, whereas very few have engineering, computer and mathematics expertise.
Female STEM Education
It is worth noting that the number of women earning doctorates in science and engineering has been rising steadily over the last two decades, but men still dominate the graduation lists. For instance, 8,297 women earned science and engineering doctorates in 1993 compared to 17,821 men who earned similar qualifications. The number of women and men who graduated with science and engineering doctorates from college/university in 2013 was 16,537 and 22,413 men respectively.
Men in STEM careers generally earn more money compared to their female colleagues. On average, a man earns $36.34 per hour while a woman earns $31.11 per hour.
One of the main challenges that women in science face is scholarly recognition. This problem is so bad that as few as a quarter of the women who qualify to receive scholarly awards ever get the recognition they deserve. For example, women constitute 13% of scholars who earn math PhDs. However, they only make up 4-5% of award winners in the same field. The same is true in genetics where women make up 25% of PhD graduates but only 6% of scholarly award winners.
Another challenge is high gender imbalance and employment prejudice in STEM fields. For instance, men with STEM degrees are more likely to find employment in a relevant STEM field compared to women with similar qualifications. As such, only 24% of workers in STEM fields are women. Worryingly, 14% of women who fail to find STEM-related jobs end up in the education sector compared to just 6% of men who follow a similar career path. At the same time, one in five STEM-skilled women work in the healthcare sector compared to one in 10 men.
The Case for Women Joining Engineering
In the US, women constitute 47% of the workforce. Out of these, only 12.1% are civil engineers and 8.3% are electrical and electronics engineers. This is not surprising given only 19.2% of engineering bachelor’s degree graduates are women. Nevertheless, the lucky few who graduated in 2014 enjoyed a starting salary of $64,891. While only 8.5% of women work in their primary area of technical expertise, those who do so earn a median salary of $109,225, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).For women interested in joining STEM fields, it is worth noting that all engineering jobs registered 7% growth from 2010 to 2014. In civil engineering, employment opportunities will grow by 20% from 2012 to 2022.
How to Bridge the Engineering Gender Gap
First, it is wise to offer introductory courses at high school or college level that focus on giving learners a broad overview of engineering applications. At the same time, tutors should use gender-neutral examples while explaining engineering concepts. Another tip is applying engineering concepts to project-based learning initiatives or while solving community problems. A third approach is arranging interactions between undergraduates and successful women in engineering/tech fields. Other approaches include promoting gender-friendly learning environments, providing women with opportunities to build their skills, and emphasizing the social impact of engineering work.
Famous Female Engineers
Elsie Eaves was the first female to join the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1927. Moreover, Eaves joined the Engineering and News-Record (ENR) in 1926 and was involved in post-World War II reconstruction planning. Another notable female engineer was Beatrice Alice Hicks, who graduated from the Newark College of Engineering in 1939 and co-founded the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in 1950. Emily Warren Roebling became the chief engineer during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1872, when her husband fell sick with the bends.