A Bright Future in STEM for Girls and Women

Thursday, March 23, 2023
7 Famous Women In Stem

On February 11, the United Nationals celebrated the 8th Annual United International Day of Women and Girls in Science.  The history of women in STEM looks bright, indeed.

The cultural myth that men are better at “numbers-based” careers than women is quickly fading out, as younger people (free of that historical bias) enter the workforce.  But the gender gap in STEM persists.  

In 1970, 8% of STEM workers in the U.S. were women.  Today, that figure is only 27%.

Thankfully, there are countless scholarships for girls and women interested in STEM.  Trends in family-friendly policies also promise to help women balance demanding careers with motherhood.  And some estimate that 65% of the jobs in 2030 don’t even exist yet – and the majority of these will be in STEM.   

STEM Scholarships for Girls and Women

There are thousands of scholarships out there for girls and women pursuing STEM.  Some are offered by corporations, others are offered by schools, and still others come from NPOs and philanthropic sources.

Let’s start with two NSHSS scholarships:

Examples of scholarships from big-name tech companies:

Examples of scholarships from NPOs:

Title IX

In 1972, the U.S. government enacted Title IX, which officially required schools to increase representation of women or face a reduction in federal funds.  Today, the U.S. government spends a vast amount on STEM research – much of which is carried out at U.S. universities.  Title IX has helped women access educational tracks that were previously male-dominated.

Today, women represent 50%  of undergraduate students in the U.S.  However, they continue to be less-represented in high-end STEM careers that require graduate education.  Is this just the result of continued bias?

Family-Friendly Policies

The first female Dean of the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Mary Ann Mason, carried out a 10-year longitudinal study to determine why women appeared to be dropping out of the STEM career “pipeline”.   One of the findings of the study was that many women in STEM were faced with the decision of not having enough time off from their demanding careers to have a child.  As a result, may women were temporarily, and sometimes permanently, “dropping out” of the pipeline to focus on their family.

Dr. Mason presented the study findings to the California Senate, showing the vast amount of government investment (federal and state aid) in the education of these STEM career women that was being lost because of the failure of employers to accommodate child-rearing.  In response, California enacted a series of family-friendly laws for employer, including up to 12 weeks of maternity leave for women who want to be a mother and continue a demanding career.

The trend toward family-friendly policies is also being adopted by the private sector, which sees the essential importance of retaining top female talent.  Netflix famously offers up to a year of paid leave for parenting, while Amazon will pay for paid leave for one’s partner.

Women Role Models in STEM

With women still less-represented in STEM fields, there remains an imbalance in the number of potential role models.  

One recent study published in Frontiers of Psychology examined the impact of STEM mentors on 304 girls from ages 12 to 16.  The study concluded that the mentors led to a “positive and significant effect on mathematics enjoyment, importance attached to math, expectations of success in math, and girls’ aspirations in STEM, and a negative effect on gender stereotypes.”

All girls interested in STEM should research the amazing contributions of women such as Jennifer Doudna, the geneticist who recently received the Nobel prize for the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool.  Check out our article: 7 Famous Women in Stem who Defy the Gender Gap.

STEM Careers of the Future

Many of the STEM jobs of the future don’t even exist yet.  But one thing that is for sure:  STEM is a field that will only continue to grow.  A very short glimpse at some of the careers that will be in high-demand in the future include:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Robot Technology
  • Environmental and Climate Science
  • Agricultural Technology
  • Data Science
  • Biotechnology
  • 3-D Printing

You can start to distinguish yourself in STEM while still in high school.  Check out this inspiring article, Science for Girls, by Girls, about a high school student who created the Emerging Female Scientists online journal.

Family-Friendly Policies

Overall, in STEM fields women represent only 24% of the workforce.

Although girls tend to study STEM subjects in roughly equal numbers to boys in high school, and earn 50% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, they make up only 15% of graduates and workers in engineering.

According to Forbes, 17% of chemical engineers and 22% of environmental scientists are women.

International Women and Girls in Science Day was established in 2015 by UN resolution to promote full and equal access to, and participation in, science for women and girls.

According to UNESCO, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. The UN has flagged that, despite a shortage of skills in STEM subjects, women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics, while in cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman.

Girls can seek out mentors through networking events, online forums, and professional organizations.

Girls can also benefit from seeking out STEM-related internships and jobs.